Thursday, February 28, 2019

Submerged and Spiritual

According to Facebook, Mac and I have been friends for three years now.

I only know that because Mac was notified, along with photos, although only one of them was of us together and that was the shot taken on election day with Tim Kaine between us. Then there were our individual profile pictures, along with the snap Mac took of me standing by the murals on the Jamaican joint in J-Ward.

Not a very good representation of our friendship, if you ask me.

And really, you could say we celebrate Mac and Karen day every time we walk together, which is generally a few times a week. Like yesterday, when we did our usual walk down to the river to watch it raging. People were saying that at 16.2 feet, the James was higher than it had been in a decade and we wanted to see for ourselves.

Sure enough, besides sounding like a freight train, it was incredibly high, muddy and speeding by with whitecaps everywhere. We looked over the edge of Brown's Island only to see that the water had covered the path we usually take down to access the pipeline.

Now, mind you, we haven't been able to get on the pipeline from the west end of it since, what, October, but seeing the James raging was enough to make us curious about the state of the pipeline walkway. So we walked to the east end, ogling all the way the partially-submerged pipeline.

The place where Mac's keys had fallen 8 feet down into the river year before last? Water over the walkway. The bottom rungs of the ladder we use to climb up when walking east? Underwater. It was unlike anything we've seen down there and we've been regular pipeline walkers for years.

But at least we'd witnessed this aberration together.

Tonight we celebrated Mac and Karen day by walking over to the ICA in a light rain to see "Black Mother," an immersive film about Jamaica and its people, described as a "baptism by fire."

If you knew the kind of things Mac and I do together, you'd know that this was right up our alley.

"Thank you for coming out tonight and braving the Richmond drizzle," film curator Enjoli Moon said, tongue firmly in cheek, as she was preparing us for what was next. "This film is raw and real and if you have problems with that, you may want to exit stage left." I'm not sure if it was the weather or the timing - their film screenings are usually the second Wednesday of the month, so this was a bonus screening - but it was a smaller crowd than usual.

That said, I wasn't in my seat for two minutes when a DJ I know waved hi from across the auditorium.

More of a visual poem than a straightforward story, Khalik Allah's film was an ode to the island of his heritage (he's half Jamaican and half Iranian with a New York accent you couldn't cut with a knife) and its people. Introducing it, he explained that there were some parts that might make us want to close our eyes or let our mind drift and he approved of both responses since he'd made the film as a contemplation on a higher power.

Using multiple kinds of cameras and various voices talking, he used images of people staring back at him, talking and interacting with others and nature to demonstrate the range of Jamaica. As a photographer-turned-filmmaker, there was a definite sense that it was a photographer's documentary, each vignette a portrait.

What kinds of portraits? Scenes of a man eviscerating a fish he's just caught, of a pregnant woman getting a sonogram, of his grandfather's funeral and burial, of a baby being born and a woman dancing in the streets alternated with Jamaicans staring mutely at his lens. He said he saw his film as part island story, part colonization story, part tourism warning and part spiritual.

On a side note, as many times as I'd seen those murals on Marshall Street, only tonight did I learn that the one in the uniform was Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey.

After the dense film ended, he and Enjoli took the stage to talk about it. That's when we learned that he'd used friends in the movie as well as strangers, that his Mom had thought it was about her and on that dark day when 45 had been elected, he'd obtained his Jamaican citizenship "just to have an exit plan."

For Mac and me, our only exit plan was to walk back to my apartment knowing that we'd meet up again in the morning to walk and talk, the building blocks of our friendship. Now I'm thinking we're going to take a photo of us together so that next time Facebook declares a Mac and Karen Day, there's at least some photographic proof.

Chances are, any one of the strangers who say hello to us every morning would be happy to make us Facebook official by snapping a pic.

We love you, Tim, but you're kind of a fifth wheel when it comes to what matters most on this important day: Mac and me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Worst Pies in London

Some plays stick with you.

When I first saw "Sweeney Todd" at the Kennedy Center in 1980, it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Dark yet humorous, mostly sung with little dialog and performed with an incredible set, the play solidified my passion for anything written by Stephen Sondheim, whom I'd first fallen hard for after seeing "Pacific Overtures" a few years earlier in the same theater.

So when I saw that upstart theater company TheatreLAB was producing "Sweeney Todd" at the Basement, I wasted no time in scoring tickets. Good thing, too, since the run sold out barely a week after opening.

Then I rallied the troops. Mr. Wright, with whom I'd so enjoyed "Sondheim by Sondheim" and a fan himself, was a given and Pru and Beau wasted no time in signing on. To make it even better, we had a new Jackson Ward restaurant to try beforehand.

So long, Rogue and welcome to the neighborhood, Adarra. When we walked in, it was to find the chef owner discussing wine with his staff, but he waved us in. I went into scan mode, deciding that the space is certainly more attractive than it was, sort of clubby feeling with warm browns and less of a bar vibe.

I've been a fan of the chef since his days at Julep (when he gave me and some friends a lesson in salt) when it was in the Bottom and right on through his tenure at Nota Bene, so I felt pretty confident we were going to have a terrific meal.

Do I sound like a braggart if I say I was right?

Choosing to start with San Venanzio Prosecco Tresio, Beau announced that my nickname should be Bubbles and I don't think he meant because of my personality. Whatevs. Mr. Wright, mindful of the future, stayed the course with Alfredo Maestro Vina Almater, a Tempranillo that got him reminiscing about pintxos versus tapas, a distinction I'm still learning.

All our selections came from the sea, perhaps wishful thinking on my part since it was supposed to go down to 31 degrees last night. Plump head-on shrimp in a bath of bagna cauda - aka garlic, anchovies and olive oil - got a second life once we polished off the shrimp when I suggested everyone use bread to sop up the rich oil.

Whole lot of moaning going on for that.

As predicted by the guy in the argyle sweater across from me, I gravitated to roasted skate with smoked butter and sauteed green onion greens (which were killer), but so did they, which was smart since I wasn't going to share with anybody but my date. Mr. Wright and I did share a large bowl of seasonal fish stew laden with monkfish, shrimp, mussels and calamari in a tomato-based broth he described as "persuasive but not overbearing."

Now that I think about it, that's probably how I'd like to be perceived: persuasive but not overbearing.

If I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure of everything Pru and Beau ordered because we were so busy chowing down with dishes arriving every few minutes that I couldn't pay attention to what went in their mouths. I know they had the roasted squash with goat cheese and verde sauce because I snagged a few bites and Beau wasn't far off proclaiming he could eat two bowls of it. It really was that good.

And while I can't speak to how wonderful the Iberico chorizo or Iberico ham were, I noticed there was none left over. But easily the most satisfying dish to land on the table was gnocchi with mushrooms and Ricotta, with its earthy flavors and melt-in-your-mouth texture. So good, in fact, that a second bowl was required.

Because, let's get real here, sometimes all you want to do is hit repeat when you get to the bottom of a truly decadent dish.

Half the table eschewed a final course (no, I don't know what planet they're from), but the dessert-devoted didn't, with Beau choosing polenta cake and yours truly having panna cotta with blood orange. With a play about murder and cannibalism in our near future, it only made sense to get any eating out of the way in advance.

When we got up to leave, I spotted a favorite restaurant couple at the bar and stopped to say hello and meet their companion. When I raved about our meal, the response was, "His food has always been great," as I know. But they also love that it's another spot in J-Ward and I'm with them on that, too.

Bring 'em on and the more, the merrier. Anyplace I can walk to suits us just fine.

And if it's a place that's only a few blocks from the Basement, all the better. We arrived early, expecting general admission seating, only to find that two stools had been reserved for Mr. Wright and I right behind the large wooden chest that the cast would use to hide the bodies.

Talk about your prime seating. Pru and Beau took stools behind us along the wall and we all settled in for a tale of vengeance, love and how to succeed in the pie business without resorting to using kitty cats for filler, all set off by plastic-covered walls.

Think of it as thrift,
As a gift,
If you get my drift
With the price of meat what it is...

Director Deejay Gray has to be commended for stripping down the set, limiting the musicians to piano and violin and choosing a ridiculously strong cast to convey the macabre story.

Every time I see Alexander Sapp in another role, I feel more certain that we'll lose him to a bigger market given his outsize talent. His Sweeney Todd managed to be heartbroken over the loss of his wife and child, while portraying his murderous impulses with real menace.

As Mrs. Lovett, Bianca Bryan portrays the woman who sees the potential in having a man around, even if he's the murderous sort. Adding dimension to the character were her moments of humor which underpinned the story because we all know comedy plays best when it comes from tension.

Awkward joke, anyone?

Audra Honaker got the award for most valuable, posing as the virginal bide, evoking pity as the beggar woman and showing off her comedic skills as Pirelli, the Italian selling hair oil. And don't get me started on Matt Shofner as Tobias Ragg, Pirelli's dim-witted assistant who becomes Mrs. Lovett's dim-witted assistant once Pirelli has been dispatched to the chest at our feet, his scarf trailing out the side. By turns devoted, hard-working and ultimately all-seeing, Shofner brought real humanity to his Tobias.

But everyone nailed their roles and there wasn't a weak voice in the bunch as the story unfolded mesmerizingly, even with full knowledge of what was going to happen. That TheatreLAB made what was old fresh attests to their ability to produce classics currently told.

All of which leads me to conclude that being exposed to Sondheim at a tender, young age is enough to make a theater-lover out of anyone, even a woman who can't carry a tune in a bucket (as my grandmother used to say about me).

As for my attraction to a play about a restaurant - okay, a place that serves meat pies - let's not forget the underlying essence of "Sweeney Todd." Everybody goes down well with beer.

Never more so than when served up in dark basement in Jackson Ward. If you get my drift...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Get Ready to Weep

I'm hosting an intimate house show featuring Liza Kate and Jonathan Vassar...two of the most heartbreaking songwriters I know. This is also a rare opportunity to see Liza before she leaves RVA.

When an invitation like that arrives, you RSVP right away.

Mr. Wright came by and scooped me up so we could chow down at Goatocado first and while I've eaten there several times, tonight was the first time eating fireside. The afternoon warmth was still palpable when we arrived, so eating outside was extra appealing given that we settled on the bench nearest the fire as the sun set.

From there we went to my friend's house for mingling before music. Since the guest list was small - 32 people - I wasn't sure if I'd know anyone beyond our hostess and Jonathan. Silly me, it wound up being full of the old Listening Room crowd along with some new faces.

When I introduced a friend (and regular blog reader) to Mr. Wright, her handshake apparently conveyed to him how glad she was to finally put a face to all the many posts she'd read about him. Her tale of finding a copperhead in her laundry room and psyching her husband up to destroy it got the evening off to a fine start.

And while the hostess and I have been friends for years, she's only been in this Fan apartment for a year and I'd never seen it. It was like so many Fan apartments a series of good-sized rooms without doors, lots of door molding and very high ceilings. I took my time checking out the art on the walls, immediately recognizing one piece.

It was "The Lioness," part of the Grandville series Triple Stamp Press did for a Ghostprint Gallery show four - wait, how can that be? - years ago with the exquisite monoprint showing the lioness erect in a long, full 19th century skirt with a pistol tied to the sash at her waist and a riding crop under her arm. She's clearly a woman with a purpose.

All kinds of familiar faces showed up, including the scientist (who, I learned, stopped cycling after going through a windshield), the banjo player, the musical couple (minus their little one) and the in-laws who were supposed to be home watching Jonathan's children (they claimed they were nearly asleep anyway and took the chance to escape).

Talking to the scientist about teaching at VCU, he shared that his current students are the first generation to have grown up on standardized testing and the result is that they're incapable of critical thinking. And of all the unlikely moments, turns out that the scientist's partner recognized Mr. Wright from a bike ride.

This is such a small town.

After everyone found a chair, Liza Kate sat down with her guitar to play, stating for the record, "In case you don't know me, I'm leaving" and went on to share her beautifully sad songs with us as the hostess' cat wound its way among people's legs. All around us, candles burned and fairy lights shone. Wine was poured into paper cups and flasks were passed.

After singing a couple songs, Liza said, "I feel like I grew up in Richmond even though I came here in my 20s" and then paused. "That's all I'm saying about that or I'll cry" and she looked like she was about to anyway.

Saying that she didn't know who wrote it but that the song had been covered by the Byrds, she launched into a poignant cover of "You Don't Miss Your Water." I knew immediately who'd written it because I'd interviewed William Bell a few years ago ahead of his performance at the Folk Fest and he'd been justifiably proud of having written that song.

Afterward, she noted, "Every time I have to sing the word cry, I want to cry." For that matter, every time she got applause, she looked about to break down. Occasionally, she'd slip some humor in, like when she said, "This next song is for the partyheads. Move the chairs and dance if you want."

Talk about hilarious.

She seemed surprised when the room gave her a standing ovation, but for many of us, it was applause for all the years she shared her intimate songs with us. Besides, if she's like everyone else, she'll find her way back to Richmond.

During the break to allow more time for friends to chat, the Scientist shared with Mr. Wright and me his plans to cycle northern Italy with his partner this summer despite his bike issues post-accident. Getting back on that horse and all.

Our conversation ended when Jonathan Vassar sat down with his harmonica and guitar to play.

After his first song, someone in the front row put money in the donation jar next to his feet. Her husband observed, "She wanted to wait to hear the first song before she committed," the joke being that Jonathan and her husband have not only played together for years, but are business partners. For that matter, I can't imagine there was  single person in that room who hasn't heard Jonathan's distinctive brand of Americana before.

That's why it's a house show. You only invite the people who already care about the artist.

Jonathan ruminated on how being a father of three has cut into his time to book shows, so he's appreciative when house shows are set up for him. The apartment itself, he said, reminded him of the ones many of his friends lived in years ago.

He did the relatively new "For Now, We're Good" and made small talk while tuning his guitar by asking the room how everybody was doing. Pausing a beat, he said, "I'm doing fine, thanks" and got a chuckle out of some of us.

After doing a song "for Josh because he likes it," Josh called out, "Is that the radio edit?" and mishearing him, Jonathan responded, "Yea, I know some Radiohead." That got an even bigger laugh.

When Jonathan took a few moments to tighten the screws on his harmonica, his work mate and fellow musician called out, "Are you building that harmonica?" That's the only problem with house shows where everybody's a friend: no one hesitates to rib the talent.

Before singing "Something's Gotta Give," he explained that he'd only practiced the song late at night after his wife and kids were fast asleep. "I've never really sung it out loud," he confessed. "It's not about my wife." Then, just to make sure, he turned to her and said, "It's not about you, honey."

Introducing "Not in the Know," he joked, "This I did write about you. Just kidding!" And while the new material may not have had a full voice testing before tonight, they passed with flying colors.

When the audience gave him a standing ovation, too, he owned it by standing along with us to bring the evening to a close.

Was my heart broken after hearing so much melancholy music? Nope, it wasn't. But my devotion to house shows definitely went up a notch after hearing two of the most intimate singer songwriters do their best to break it.

Now if only Jonathan had played some Radiohead...

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Serious as You Wanna Be

As that sage PJ put it, it's all about choices.

Yesterday was a marathon of writing, setting appointments and sending off inquiries that lasted well into evening. What made it tolerable was knowing that even though I was working past 8:00, I could still make a stellar-sounding show at Gallery 5.

If I was willing to walk over there in the rain and if I didn't mind the show not finishing until midnight. Honestly, the end time hadn't even occurred to me until I walked in and found PJ, cute husband to my friend Em, looking for some pre-show conversation. Alas, she wasn't there because (see above) she didn't want to stay up until midnight because she was running in the morning.

Did someone say choices?

Sorry as I was not to run into her, PJ and I had plenty to discourse over. He keeps up with the state of the nation and was all kinds of active in Abigail Spanberger's campaign, even going so far as to try to rally VCU graduate students (he works there) to start paying attention and participating in democracy. He traces his own wake-up call to September 11th because as a then-21 year old, it was the first game-changer in his life.

But once an acquaintance neither of us had seen in years showed up with her squeeze, apologizing for not being out at shows anymore, we pivoted to that subject. She was curious if people just go out less once they're in their 30s ("Yes," PJ informed her succinctly) or if finding a partner had slowed things down. Add in that her favorite dance parties no longer happen now that Balliceaux is ancient history and she's become a reluctant homebody.


For a rainy night that could've kept people at home, Gallery 5 had a decent crowd and, even better, a crowd of all ages, always a good indicator of the diversity on a bill. First up were Nathan and Heather from Big No, performing as NaH with keys, guitar and both of them singing.

Theirs was a haunting sound with a set that was very atmospheric and a look to match with Heather's keyboard covered in a black drape with a fish print and the word "Pisces" painted on it. Next to her, a side table held a tiny, beaded lamp, making it feel a bit like we were in a Victorian drawing room.

Or a hippie's apartment circa 1969.

During the break, we grabbed Christina, singer from headliners Yeni Nostalji, so that PJ could take a selfie of the three of us to send to his wife so she'd know we missed her. Our only regret was that she didn't send us one back of her. And no, a meme of Jennifer Aniston waving is not the same.

Next up was D.C.'s Truth is Fire, a band with an Iranian-born Sufi poet wearing an embroidered white duster, beads and a tall, brimless hat for a frontman. PJ had alerted me to their post-punk-meets-world-music vibe and he was spot on, as usual.

But there was no way he could have conveyed the sheer theatricality of the singer, all fluttering hands - sometimes toward the guitar, others toward the heavens - sinuous hips and constant motion. His accessory of choice was a Steven Tyler-worthy scarf he could pull or wrap as he oozed drama and emotion while the foot-tall hat atop his head caused profuse sweating as he gyrated and sang.

At one point, the homebody observed, "I'm not sure if they want us to take them seriously or not. I'm just enjoying it." I give her a couple decades and, if she's smart, that'll be her M.O. in life.

Introducing the next song, the singer said it was called "Impossible Nights," because "we've had a lot of impossible nights since the election." Preach it, brother. The music spoke to me with its post-punk guitar sound with swirling world beats around them and meanwhile, I recognized the kind of music-lovers I'd once seen at a Tulsa Drone show.

Back then I'd labeled them as "older hipsters representing" but now I'm more inclined to point out that at least they're still going out. We're back to that choices thing.

After the whirling dervish of Time is Fire's performance, there seemed to be a vacuum onstage where they'd been. PJ and I were deep in a discussion of the local scene and how it had somehow been 5 years since the last Colloquial Orchestra show, which seems impossible but isn't. We counted the years since first meeting (I bought one of his photographs from him outside on a First Friday) and we've already got over a dozen years of seeing each other at music shows, art shows, in-store performances and who knows what else. Crazy.

I've known Christina of Yeni Nostalji probably ten years beginning when she walked up to me at a show at Sprout (RIP) and asked, "Who are you? I see you at shows all the time." We've been friends ever since, meeting for food, art or music (often with Em), so since I know that side of her - the dishing about life and love part - I'm fascinated every time I see her perform.

The charmingly goofy, soft-voiced woman I know is replaced by a musical interpreter who not only transfixes her audience with a voice that evokes other worlds but with the music that's emanating from her hands, body and lovely face. I don't doubt she could charm a snake with that combination.

And don't get me started on wardrobe evolution. We're talking a midriff-baring, tan animal print sweater over fitted tan jeans. Think "Kitten with a Whip 2019." People like PJ and I recall seeing her  play back in the Low Branches days when she couldn't even open her eyes while performing. At all.

Joking, I told PJ that our baby was all grown up. "Grown up? She's got a master's degree!"

Now she banters easily with the crowd, saying things like, "These are songs written in Turkish, in case you were wondering." And that's sort of the magic of it. Almost from the first, the audience was rapt listening to and looking at her, despite not being able to understand a single word she's singing.

That's high praise if any of your audience has short attention spans. Sort of like Sigur Ros and their made-up language.

Toward the end of their set, Christina announced, "We have three more songs" and the guitar player said something low to her. "And that was one of them!" she smiled and shot back. Hilarious.

As reliable as the tides, Yeni Nostalji did a set of songs that made you glad you were there in that room to hear them that night while the rain poured down outside. The funny part was, Christina had admitted earlier that for her, this was a late show because she's usually in bed by 9:30 (same as Em).

Which was just about when this show had begun.

Call me selfish, but her choice was our gain. All I had to do was show up.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Heart On My Sleeve

It's an aspirational thing. I do it for Julia Child.

After all, a woman who proclaims, "People who love to eat are always the best people" is essentially setting the bar for self-improvement. Of course I want to be the best possible person, so I love to eat. And if that requires lunch with one friend and dinner with others, I'll be the one to fall on that sword.

My lunch invitation came from a friend I hadn't seen (except in passing) in nearly two years. Even given how stupidly busy my life's been during that time, I knew we were overdue.

His suggestion was Saltbox at Willow Lawn and once I discovered they had eight oyster varieties on the menu, I was all in. The challenge was in choosing, but we eventually settled on Katama Bays (described as salt bombs, sweet-as-candy finish) from Martha's Vineyard after our server assured me they tasted like "a mouth full of ocean." Coming in second were Bayford Virginia's Shooting Stars, which were touted as salty, sweet, clean finish.

My only comment about oyster service concerns accouterments. Some of us believe that raw oysters should always be served with lemon wedges, even if I do mostly eat mine naked. The abundance of  offerings that rode shotgun were, to a one, the sort to mask the tantalizing taste of oysters, meaning they left me cold.

Sorry, if you're putting cocktail sauce,  basil-thyme mignonette, chimichurri or vinegar-heavy horseradish on your bivalves, you're dousing the flavor of the water that birthed them.

And this from a place with a sign humble-bragging, "We've served 26,000 oysters in our first 90 days!" And not a one with a lemon wedge?

Our table was set against a wall of windows that included a garage door that could be rolled up in good weather, although why anyone would want a view of the Willow Lawn parking lot is beyond me. I told my friend that a wise owner would add large pots of greenery to screen the car parade and bring the outdoors in a bit.

But, alas, we can't solve all the restaurants' problems, so we moved on to more important topics like local gossip and how crazy the restaurant scene here has gotten since we first met. Point in fact: if you'd told me ten years ago I'd be eating oysters at Willow Lawn, I'd have spit Muscadet in your face.

And then apologized, of course.

My choice for lunch was an avocado and shrimp salad starring jalapeno-ginger shrimp over watercress, avocados and radishes in a balsamic-mint vinaigrette, while Friend went safe with a crabcake sandwich and the requisite (at least to me) cole slaw. Favorite things about the lunch menu: how heavily pescatarian it was (only 4 of 14 items weren't from the water) and that their burger uses Monrovia Farms beef (as in, the same cows that made Lucy's a beef destination).

Unexpected dessert points went to an eclair cake that friend insisted we needed to share. Not really a cake, but layers of vanilla bean pudding, graham cracker crumbs and whipped cream were alternated with dark chocolate ganache and vanilla bean sea salt, a surprisingly winning combination given that it's a riff on a classic dessert that could have gone horribly wrong.

Although we did remarkably well at catching each other up on our lives since 2017, we both needed to get back to work, so we couldn't linger once the cake was history. I know I needed to get back to earning my keep for a few hours before heading out for dinner with friends.

After a busy afternoon that was supposed to be about writing but also included accepting nine new assignments, it was time to saddle up and go meet Holmes and Beloved for dinner at Amuse. It had been my suggestion since I couldn't recall the last time I'd eaten at the restaurant with the best art in town.

We arrived via the sculpture garden, strolling past the Chihuly red reeds and into the atrium where things were lively. A band was playing in Best Cafe and the African-American Read-in was going on, so people were milling about everywhere. Holmes and Beloved made a beeline for the elevator while I ascended the stairs, netting a compliment about my tights from a stranger on the way up.

Pays to get the exercise, kids.

I was just greeting the hostess, a native Californian and long-time acquaintance, when the elevator crew arrived. Recognizing Holmes, she quipped, "Oh, no, you're not with Karen's party, are you?" Holmes' reputation is legendary.

She led us to a table near the bar, a table so large that it was hard to hear each other, so we moved our chairs closer, leaving half the table unoccupied. That position afforded Beloved and I the reflection in the glass of the lighted back bar, putting both of us in mind of Manet's "Bar at Folies Bergere," minus the wasp-waisted bartender.

The Dynamic Duo starts every meal at Amuse with curry fried oysters with pickled vegetables and cucumber mint raita - our server said they'd changed up the recipe once and the regulars balked -  and who am I to buck tradition, but this one also began with one of tonight's specials: three glasses of Sublime Rose Grand Cru to set the mood pre-dinner.

An aptly-named wine, that's all I'm saying.

A bottle of J. Mourat Collection Rose accompanied my mussels and house bacon in a sauce described as white wine and butter (but which skewed heavily to the latter), Holmes' crabcakes over dirty rice and collards and Beloved's special of falling-off-the-bone short ribs.

The big news is that her broken elbow has healed enough that she can finally get a fork to her mouth with her right hand, but only if it's a long fork. Still, it's progress.

Holmes got off on a basketball tangent because his UR Spiders aren't doing well and he'd seen a  billboard that read, "Fire Coach Mooney!" Ignorant of such things, I asked if he agreed with that sentiment. "He needs to go," Holmes affirmed. "He has no magic to work."

I don't know that I've ever heard a finer explanation for getting rid of a man. No magic = gone.

I've long been a big fan of the vibe at Amuse because of the diversity of museum patrons who decide to spend time there. From the clutch of millennials in the low-slung green chairs to the dressed-up older couples who looked like donors to our unlikely posse, everyone seemed to belong, like figures passing through in a Seraut painting.

Once the dining room began clearing out, we moseyed back through the sculpture garden to Holmes' man-cave for dessert of radio bars, a delicacy I'd never heard of until moving to Richmond. After polishing that off, we spent the night listening to Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music albums while I ogled his handsome face and stylish clothes on the album covers.

The man was as stylish and timeless as Bowie.

Fittingly, we started with 1982's iconic "Avalon" and worked our way back to 1976's "Let's Stick Together," which included a stellar cover of Lennon and McCartney's "It's Only Love" done in that mellow cabaret style that he does so well. And don't get me started on the seductively poetic "To Turn You On."

Because unlike some men I could mention, Bryan Ferry will always have magic to work.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Welcome to the Castle

Observer, voyeur, call me what you will.

Fact is, I like to look inside unique houses regardless of how appealing the house is to me personally. Do I want to heat a Romanesque Revival house? Definitely not. Can I see myself keeping all those rooms clean? No way.

But do I want to nose my way through it, seeking out parts of it that speak to me or pique my interest? Hellz, yes.

So when Mac informed me that she'd scored two tickets to tonight's House Story, I was all about seeing the inside of one of those monster houses on Hermitage Road. The one in question was 4500 square feet and had every overblown detail you'd expect, from hand-cut granite columns and arches to twelve rooms "of gracious scale" to recommend it.

Because it's been snowing/raining since the middle of last night, it wasn't easy to see much on the porch when we walked up the stairs. But the enormity of the tiled front porch - which took off down the front of the house to a rounded area where a large wrought iron table and chairs sat and then back down the side of the house, too - made itself felt with a weightiness and solidity that made the house seem impervious to anything that might hit it.

Short of cannon fire, I can't even see Mother Nature making a dent in this place.

Inside, we escaped the gathering crowds by heading upstairs, where the first room I found myself in was the library. And you know how I like to ogle other people's books: "Do You Sleep in the Nude?' by Rex Reed (whom my favorite grandmother read and my Mom disdained), "Graham Greene on Film" (I admit, my interest was piqued) and "20,000 Years of Fashion" are just a few of the unlikely tomes wedged on shelves rising to the 11' ceiling.

Best of all, a library ladder was propped against one wall. Be still, my heart.

Most people seemed to breeze through the hallway leading to the bedrooms and bathrooms, but I took my time because of the framed prints and etchings lining it. My favorite? A Vanity Fair print called "Men of the Day No. 36" featuring a slender man in a loose gray suit, his whiskers growing halfway down his cheeks.

The caption read, "I say, the critic must keep out of the region of immediate practice." Pretty funny, right?

Passing by the back of the house servants' stairs, I walked into one of the bedrooms to see a Chinese wedding bed, its ornate, carved wooden frame sheltering a bed covered in colorful pillows with a nightstand. The side walls were covered with open carvings, perhaps for ventilation?

One man walked in, took a gander and proclaimed, "Looks like an opium bed!" More like a deflowering bed, sir.

Mac was especially taken with a book spindle which housed two layers of books that could be spun to view all the book spines. Someone had told her that spindles were originally used in libraries until it became apparent that people weren't removing or returning books gently enough and the spindles were breaking.

And this is why we can't have nice things.

There were no small rooms (well, maybe except one, which was probably a trunk room originally), allowing ample space for the owners' eclectic taste in furniture. Bathrooms were laid out with no thought of conserving space, so the toilet would be off in its own nook but still connected to the main bath area. An odd shaped room, but one that easily accommodated two.

One bathroom especially charmed me with its double windows, the first one opening into the bathroom and the second one the kind you push up. Mac and I discussed how we'd have one or both of those open every chance we got.

Downstairs, a door led to a screen door over some bushes. Our best guess was that the door opened to allow cross-ventilation and for no other reason since the architecture made it clear that it had never been anything but a window.

A door with no purpose except air flow is my kind of door.

One feature that spoke to Mac and me was the back porch, bringing to three the total number of wide, generous porches with stained, wooden ceilings. I admit my head was also turned by the owner's extensive collection of 1920s and vintage travel posters throughout the house.

When it came time for the owner of the house built by architect D. Wiley Anderson to speak, everyone gathered in the double parlor to hear about the 1898 residence and the man who'd designed it. Seems Anderson tried his hand at several styles of architecture and designed 50 houses in Richmond, ten of which have been knocked down.

The owner mentioned that Anderson had done a similarly styled, if not quite so grand, Romanesque Revival house on Floyd Avenue and I immediately knew what house he meant, having lived a few blocks from it during my 13-year stint on Floyd.

Frankly, it's tough to miss the massiveness of turrets, deeply recessed entrances and short, squat columns among the townhouses of the Museum District.

Interestingly enough, the owner mentioned that Anderson's work owed a debt to the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, whom I'd only learned about when we toured the Customs House in Key West. Richardson redux.

We heard about how by 1988 the house had fallen into disrepair after being unoccupied for 20 years so the Shriners, who owned it, had called in a wrecking ball to sit menacingly behind the house, waiting to destroy it. Seems it took the neighborhood exactly 48 hours to get Historic Richmond involved and stop the demolition.

One of the pleasures of House Story, besides hearing the current owner talk about their house, is when the house's long-time neighbors get up to talk, since they usually have more knowledge of the house than the new owner does.

Tonight that person was Frank Wood, who got the ball rolling to stop the wrecking ball from doing its job. We also heard about how Hermitage was an early streetcar suburb with aspirations of being Monument Avenue Part Deux, so they asked the widow of Civil War general A.P. Hill. if they could dig up his remains and replant them under a statue of Hill on Hermitage Road.

Miraculously, she said yes, take them bones.

And that, ladies and germs, is how A. P. Hill wound up spending eternity in what is now a roundabout at Laburnum and Hermitage. Who doesn't love a good history lesson out of the blue?

Although it was too wet and cold to go out in the back yard, we were told that if we had, we'd have seen two carriage houses, one a stable and the other for Sunday carriages. Mac and swooned over the notion of Sunday carriages and the gentile world that begat such a thing.

Meanwhile, a woman from the Hermitage Road Association got up to speak, mentioning that they're trying to position the neighborhood as the gateway to Scott's Addition, a pretty dubious aspiration, if you ask me.

Which nobody did.

And speaking of our voyeuristic tendencies, once we'd opened doors (as Mac pointed out, the closets were unbelievably spacious for an 1898 house), peered through windows to check out the views and admired elaborate transoms, we bowed out after the talk in service of my hired mouth.

The critic can keep out of the region of immediate practice only if she doesn't want a roof over her head.

And while mine has nary an arch or crenolation, it is home. A place where the bathroom window opens in, there's superb cross-ventilation and the shelves are lined with a wild array of books no one else would care about.

It's no opium den, but then, whose house is anymore?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Thin Slice of Heaven

I witnessed a new cultural low today.

We, as a culture, have apparently sunk to the point that articles must be labeled with warnings to prevent us from starting something we can't finish.  That's right, I'm talking about seeing an online piece labeled with "3 minute read" to alert the reader that this won't take too long.

My guess is that when an article warns that it's a 13 or 15-minute read - gasp! - that saves those with short attention spans from even starting to read it. I mean, what's the point?

Needless to say, I found all this a bit disturbing. Does no one enjoy diving into an article without knowing how much precious time might be lost to reading it or is that just me?

And don't get me started on today being designated as "Single-tasking day," our annual official reminder to quit doing so much at once. Look, I don't need no stinkin' holiday to tell me I can stop walking the trash to the Supercan long enough to watch three mounted policeman clopping down Henry Street like I did this afternoon.

I'll task at my own pace, thank you very much.

Given the amount of online attention, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the passing of designer Karl Lagerfeld. Not because I'm any kind of fashionista, but because he's another icon dying in my lifetime. Besides, any man who goes on records saying, "Sweatpants are a sign of defeat" should be hailed.

As for his, "Vanity is the healthiest thing in life," well, I'm still ruminating on that one. Either way, RIP, Karl.

Tonight was given over to a Penny Marshall tribute at the Byrd Theater. True, she died two months ago, but it seems it took a while to get the appropriate films to celebrate her. I went for "A League of Their Own," but they were showing "Awakenings" afterward for the truly bereaved.

Walking into the Byrd, manager Todd greeted me by saying, "I was just thinking we've had all these special events and I haven't seen you in weeks." It was a good moment to inform him I'd been at Sunday's screening of "From Here to Eternity" and he hadn't. In fact, it was the first time I'd heard a pre-recorded message from Todd instead of the real thing.

Inside, a woman was squealing with delight about how excited she was to see this movie again finally. Her friend agreed, saying, "I haven't seen it in years!" Me, either. My last time was in 1992 when it came out.

One thing I know for sure is that when I saw it then, I would have had no idea where Willamette, Oregon was and that's where the story begins. Nor would I have recognized the field where the girls' teams have their try-outs, but now I'd recognize the ivy-covered wall at Wrigley Field anywhere.

Once I got past the always-lipsticked mouths of the players and their artfully smudged dirty faces and accepted that this was not a docu-sports film, I really enjoyed it in a '90s sort of a way.

I mean, the hair was so early Clinton years, if you know what I'm saying, and so not 1943.

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't realize that in 1992 we still thought it was funny (and acceptable onscreen) to shut up an annoying child by throwing a baseball at his head and knocking him out. And to those who say that's just comedy? Sorry, that's like saying you didn't know blackface was wrong in the '80s.

Not bloody likely.

Geena Davis, always a pleasure to watch, excelled not only in her acting but in her baseball skills. Jon Lovitz did nothing more than play Jon Lovitz, but it was funny enough. Lines like, "I'm just gonna go home, grab a shower and shave, give the wife a little pickle-tickle and I'm on my way" sound downright tame to 21st century ears.

I'd forgotten how good Madonna's dance scene in the bar was, but I was also gratified to see that she had on a girdle when her partner threw her overhead, because no self-respecting woman in 1943 - even one who played baseball for a living - would have gone out at night without a girdle on.

Continuity, I thank you for that, as well as for the pointy white bras the players wore.

Rosie O'Donnell was downright adorable mocking herself - "She was a dancer, I was a bouncer" - while also demonstrating that she really was awfully good at baseball.

Knowing that the bruises and scrapes in the movie were actual bruises and scrapes didn't do anything for me, but watching women slide into bases erased any doubt how they got them. All in the name of ACTING, I suppose.

Tom Hanks was his usual charming (if also alcoholic, in this case) self, never more so than when he referred to a woman by saying, "You gorgeous stack of pancakes, you."

Who wouldn't want to be compared to something that tasty?

Of course the movie's main strength was not the athletic platitudes ("Baseball gets inside you. It lights you up. You play like you love it.") but that it was based on a documentary about these women who blazed a trail in baseball while the men were off to war. I wouldn't have been a fraction as interested had the story not been based on facts, which made it even cooler in the final scene when many of the original players were onscreen.

But I'll tell you what I would have done. Even if the film had come with a warning  - 128 minute viewing - I'd still have sat down at the Byrd and watched it start to finish. But I'm starting to admit that if everything were labeled with the amount of time required, perhaps far fewer people would have come.

Horrors. Could it be that being at home in sweat pants avoiding long articles is enough?

If so, I don't even want to know. There's no cryin' about cultural decline.

Monday, February 18, 2019

When Your Mind's Made Up

If I say I'm going to be at your house at 3:30, I'm going to be at your house at 3:30. Ahem.

And if it changes the rest of my life, so be it.

The problem with starting a blog when you're recovering from illness, unemployed and not in a relationship is that you hope that all those things will change. And while I can be healthy and employed while still finding the time to blog, it's a different story now that I'm in a real relationship.

Whatever that means, it's not anything I've done before.

So after a three day weekend celebrating love and luck, rituals and romance, I'm looking back at all the things I could blog about except that work is preventing me from going on and on long enough to cover even half of that.

Do I begin with the Prosecco kick-off to a six-hour meal at Dinamo, complete with drop-in guest for the much anticipated 3:30 toast with Gabriella Pinot Gris? How about the chocolate espresso torte taken home to enjoy rather than amongst the V-Day celebrants?

And don't get me started on the Year in Review, a photo album documenting 80 moments I may recall with clarity now but probably won't forever.

As for the cozy interlude at Lift to sip whipped cream-topped hot chocolate, well, that was just to take advantage of walking in the snowy/rain mix under a big umbrella together.

Or do I go directly to seeing "Once" at Virginia Rep and reveling in a 13-person cast, all of whom played their own instruments - mandolin, guitar, banjo, violin, drums - and a charming, if unresolved, love story? I first saw "Once" at an arthouse theater in Philly in August 2007, only to leave the theater in tears to drive back down I-95 south alone.

Let's just say it was far preferable to watch the musical love story unfold live with Mr. Wright and stroll home talking about it instead. Best line used 3 times: "I'm always serious. I'm Czech!"

For that matter, I definitely don't have time to go into details about going to see "From Here to Eternity" (a film I'd never seen before) at the Byrd Theatre. And because it was one of our themed movie dates, we followed up a classic film set in Hawaii with dinner at the Hawaiian-influenced Perch. Except that rather than tiki drinks, we went Spanish with Poema Cava to toast the future.

Favorite things about the movie? Burt Lancaster in fitted, '50s-style swimming trunks. Montgomery Clift in a pre-car accident role before his face got messed up. Outdoor Hawaiian Tiki bars circa 1953. Deborah Kerr in stylish high-waisted shorts. Raven-haired Donna Reed as a bad girl who wants to go "proper."

What I did have time for was wallowing in a long weekend with the most hilarious man I know without writing a single word for profit or for the online curious.

I can't promise that will be the case once the Year of Upheaval begins. But for now, I'm doing my best.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Meaningful, Symbolic Gestures

I could see it beginning last night.

A simple supper at Garnett's with Mr. Wright on a Wednesday evening turned out to be a standing room only valentine's eve kind of a vibe. Our server - wearing a heart-red cullotte dress - confirmed my guess that we were likely surrounded by early celebrants.

The multi-day extravaganza that is Valentine's Day was upon us and we'd just come for food.

Or at least I had, since it's a holiday not high on my hit parade, though Mr. Wright later unveiled a non-Valentine's Day envelope of his own.

Walking with Mac this morning after two days of road trips for me, we crossed one of our usual corners on the way to the river, only to intersect with an ex of mine. Howdy, stranger is about all I said as we kept moving, but on the way back, two different strangers wished us a happy Valentine's Day.

Grocery shopping meant dodging wild-eyed men seeking flowers, cards and balloons and by the time I finished, I'd talked myself into going directly to Nate's Bagels. Semms they'd baked pink everything, sesame and poppy seed bagels in anticipation of hungry lovebirds (or just the expectations of the masses), but they'd already sold out of the pink everythings.

Since I was there to indulge myself, I didn't really care what color the bagel was. Priorities, people.

Once home from Nate's, I found my annual valentine in the mailbox from Holmes and Beloved. For as long as I've known this man, he sends me a kiddie valentine in a small red envelope inside a large white envelope addressed to me. He always signs both their names to demonstrate his aim is true.

And although I'm not at all into a big celebration on this day, I did need to get out after an intense day at my desk. That's how I ended up walking over to Coalition Theater - past couple after couple framed in the windows at Max's - to see "U Up?" aka a Valentine's Day sketch comedy show.

Turns out lots of people wanted to see comedy about love, courting and romancing tonight and most of them had been wise enough to order tickets online. Not me, so I put my name on a waiting list behind one other couple and sat down to wait.

There were sketches of all kinds from a Millennial Dating Game show where the woman had to pick from three guys she's already hooked up with to Trish and Dave's Extreme Date Night, which was a Bird Box date night ending with a lot of blood and bumping into each other.

Life without you is like a broken pencil. Pointless.

Multiple were the sex talks we witnessed, from one with Star Wars characters (spoiler alert: it involves a bikini and biting the head off a giant slug) to Harry Potter getting the talk from assorted teachers including Voldemort the virgin. Even the Terminator stopped caressing his Nerf gun long enough for his Mom to explain how babies were made. Naturally it involved a picture of a woman he'd never met.

I like that you're obsessed with me.

"Dine Another Day" involved James Bond and Doctor Killmore losing their dates when they can't stop battling for rhetorical dynamic dominance with each other and behave properly date-like. That meant lines like, "Mr. Bond, looks like you have a license to kill...conversation!" as his date stalks out of the restaurant.

You are the nuclear accelerant to my heart.

One of the smartest sketches involved a couple pulling out their argument card decks, using whatever card would help them best their mate in verbal sparring. He pulls out the "turn the table" card or the "spread the blame" card and next thing you know, she resorts to pulling out the "trap" card. You can imagine how that ended.

Tell me about your fiancee, the tuxedo salesman asks. "She likes music, naps and lunch, just like me."

For the "Divorce Doctor" set, couples were looking for reasons to consciously uncouple so they could celebrate the myriad pleasures of being divorced. When one woman took issue with her mate for buying Miracle Whip instead of Duke's mayonnaise, it was in pursuit of a divorce. Heated words were exchanged, with the woman yelling that Miracle Whip doesn't have enough oil in it to be called mayonnaise so she's outta there.

"Speak it!" a guy two seats down from me called out passionately to the couple. He doesn't care about them breaking up, just about mayo superiority.

Richmond, taking their Duke's seriously since 1607. Valentine's Day, not so much.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Just Like Me

My day was a three-act play, with only the briefest of intermissions.

Act 1: The server is not responding

I may be a Luddite, but I at least live in a world of connectivity. My octogenarian parents, who do have cell phones, mind you (unlike me), are also at the mercy of some rinky dink Northern Neck internet provider that could only be classified as intermittent at best.

They're used to this, probably because they were still on a dial-up connection into the Obama administration, but I'm not. So when I got down there for my annual visit to complete and e-file their taxes, you can imagine my frustration to find that the internet is missing in action,

Apparently what they do when this happens is call the provider, whose pre-recorded message informs them that service will be spotty for the next few hours. Mom and Dad take this in stride. "It always goes out when there's bad weather," Mom says, as if this is a legit explanation.

And by bad weather, we're talking breezy and occasional rain showers, so nothing catastrophic.

Since I can't do what I came to do, I spend the morning on other requests like baking oatmeal raisin cookies, mending a hole in Mom's favorite cardigan and organizing kitchen cabinets. Finally, after lunch the Internet returns and taxes can not only be filed, but accepted by the IRS before the possibility of another government shutdown descends.

But because I had to wait until afternoon to begin doing taxes, it's late afternoon before I hit the road back to Richmond for my final foray to the Environmental Film Fest.

Act 2: Al Gore was right

Arriving back in J-Ward at 5:20 for a documentary that began at 6 meant a sprint to get cleaned up before grabbing an umbrella and walking over to Cabell Library for Leonardo diCaprio's passion project, "Before the Flood."

I arrived with five minutes to spare. As you might expect, the room was full of people already alarmed about global warming rather than people who needed a cinematic slap in the face to realize how quickly things are going to get dire.

Like how by 2040, it'll be possible to sail over the North Pole. How the ice there used to be hard and dark blue and is now pale blue with the consistency of ice cream.

For closer-to-home concerns, there was Miami, where the city is currently involved in massive project to raise streets and install pumps to rid roadways of the seawater which currently rises through the city's drains to regularly flood the streets.

And while a shift to solar power seems like a no-brainer, both China and India are making more progress on that front than the U.S. Island nations contribute the least to global warming's causes yet feel its effects most. Oh, and once again, a reminder that raising cows is the most inefficient use of land so we all need to cut back on meat.

Probably most shocking was the make-up of Congress in 2016: 38 climate deniers in the Senate and 131 in the House. We pay these people to be ignorant?

Let's just say that by the time I left Cabell, I had accepted that Greenland is going to go away, along with most of Florida and Norfolk, which represents an enormous security risk for the country given the naval base there.

Walking home after a day of waiting for Internet and being reminded that life as we know is on the way out had me ready to climb into bed and call it a night.

Except that ten minutes after I got home, the phone rang. Holmes and Beloved were en route to Acacia and didn't I want to join them for dinner in 20 minutes?

Act 3: RSVP for one

Another quick change of clothes and I too was headed to Acacia, where I found them at the bar already sipping pink bubbles. When I asked the bartender what we were drinking, his response was, "Chateau Langlois Cremant de Loire Brut Rose, the same thing you guys drank the last couple of times you were here."

So we're creatures of habit, apparently.

Since we'd gotten a late start, we jumped right into appetizers: white anchovies with grilled Romaine, radicchio and Forme d'Ambert (because Beloved can't go to Acacia and not have them), crab fritters studded with lump crabmeat and deep fried deviled eggs. A nice light start, in other words.

The occasion for the Tuesday celebration was that it was Beloved's first day back at work, albeit abridged to a four hour workday, since she broke her elbow back in late December. While she'd been in a cast and then bandage, they'd not done their usual dining out. Holmes said his credit card bill had dropped precipitously while she just wanted to be among the living and eating well again.

The bartender regaled us with his theories on dogs (puppyhood is key) while giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up to our dinner selections: a Wagyu cheesebuger that made Beloved moan with pleasure, pork schnitzel that Holmes declared the best he'd ever had in Richmond, bar none and my market fish special of grilled flounder with a beet and arugula side salad.

Usually we linger, but Acacia was clearing out, so we did, too, landing back at Holmes' man cave for molten chocolate cake, some unexpected and perfectly lovely Francoise Chidaine le Chenin d'Ailleurs Brut and a listening party that began with Elvis Costello solely because that was where his last solo listening party had ended.

Usually he does the record selection with input and requests from the womenfolk, but I waited until he was in the loo to peruse his collection on my own. Almost immediately, I made a stealth find, namely "The Way We Were" soundtrack and pulled it out. He's no Streisand fan but she and I are and he'd never mentioned having this album, much less played it for us.

The album/movie resonated for both of us because we'd been young when we'd seen it but recalled how it had destroyed us with its story of two people who fell in love but ultimately couldn't be together. Back when we first saw it, neither of us had had enough life experience to realize that sometimes that's how life pans out so it had upset us. Scarred us, even.

Tonight it was just a treat to hear, as much for classic songs Beloved immediately recognized by name - "Red Sails in the Sunset" and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" - as for the three interpretations of the heart-tugging theme song. Oh, Hubbel.

Holmes tried to top that by pulling out the "Local Hero" soundtrack done by Mark Knopfler, but it was a whole different animal, albeit a satisfyingly 1983 one.

The big score was a compilation album called "The Best of '66," full of originals and covers, some of which defied belief. Why would anyone allow the Brothers Four to cover "Help?" Most egregious of all was the New Christy Minstrels' soul-less take on Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking," which had not an iota of sexiness left in it despite the lyrics.

When I made a request for the soundtrack to "Hair," Holmes pivoted in his bar stool extracting the album from behind two others on a shelf directly behind his head. The man has hundreds of albums and he somehow knew exactly where this one was.

I'd wanted to hear "Good Morning, Starshine" but our group was unimpressed by Lynn Kellogg's version, leading Holmes to dub this "The Night of the Covers." On the other hand, "Aquarius" by Ronnie Dyson played just fine.

My favorite part of the 1968 album? That the song "Black Boys," sung in the original cast by Diane Keaton (news to me), bears a dedication to Governor George Wallace. Well done, kids.

At midnight, we realized we needed to bring this party to a close, but since Beloved doesn't go to work now until 2:00, we relented and put on more music. Finally at 1:15, we put on our grown-up pants and shut off the turntable for the night.

Total non-sleeping time spent at home today: an hour and 15 minutes, a new record.

But that's okay, intermissions are for amateurs. When old records call, I'm ready for my close-up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

While the Smudge Lingers

Seeing a flowering quince in Jackson Ward today can only mean one thing: spring must be coming.

Said the eternal optimist.

Mac was the one who noticed it as we were walking down Marshall Street on our way to the river, but I was the one to point out clumps of daffodils nearby, their buds so yellow they'll be blooming by Valentine's Day, I'll bet.

Tonight, it was a long-simmering desire to hear poetry read to me by strangers, not to mention wanting to "spend" my Christmas present gift certificates, that put me at Chop Suey for a reading and some book shopping.

First up was the soft-voiced Semein Washington who was admonished to speak up after he introduced himself. "I will, I will! I'll use my diaphragm," he promised and upped the volume, which didn't affect his tendency to speak in a monotone.

It's always fascinating to hear people read their own work because despite a presumption that no one can read their own words better, that's not always the case.

A poem about John Coltrane spoke to a 21st century jazz lover with "As your sax hums and haunts from my computer..." while one about Dr. Manhattan included the line, "He locks lips and holds hands with two women while promising both he'll love them forever."

Good luck with that, doc.

His ode to his favorite band in the world, Hella, insisted that "You get me twisted with joy, joy turns my muscles to heat." The uber-fan went on to say, "Your double time beat chops through my bandwidth."

In a poem he dedicated to the friend who was outside parking his car, Washington read, "LSD made it easier to love ourselves" while also noting that, "I feel a togetherness of my brain and thoughts." What thoughts, you wonder? "If love brought us here now or made us stay."

Never having taken LSD, that's not a question I can answer.

Another poem about taking mushrooms recalled that they "healed me of my fears and made me laugh so hard I couldn't open my eyes." I happen to know that you can laugh that hard without taking mushrooms because I do it a lot these days.

After a poem about his grandmother clad in a chrysanthemum-print dress, he closed with the somber "This May Have Nothing to Do With You," a poem about innocent people being killed in Yemen.

Next up was Beasa Dukes, wearing a top hat and displaying far more vocal inflection. Beasa read two parts of one long poem with references to an electrical storm letting "the atmospheric energy kiss my toes," seeing god as a rat or a woman and a cop shooting a child.

This was not poetry for the faint-of-heart.

Beasa closed with, "This is how all things begin, with the blood and the nothing and the end."

As far as I was concerned, at that point there was nothing to do but buy a best-selling biography of Stevie Nicks with my gift certificate and head down Cary Street to Plan 9.

I walked in to find three guys, one an employee, deep in a spirited conversation about musical equipment in the back. I was alone in looking through the bins of records and CDs for something I wanted to spend my gift certificate on, eventually deciding on Australian band Middle Kids' "Lost Friends" album and the new CD from Pedro the Lion, "Phoenix."

Before I left, I got caught up in a conversation with one of the employees I know. His first question was about my thoughts on Northam and the blackface debacle that is dominating the news cycle. That, of course, led to him asking for my thoughts on the Fairfax #MeToo accusations and, before I knew it, we were knee-deep in a discourse on the state of the state.

That's when he reminded me that the last time we'd talked had been at the Village Cafe back in 2014 after a screening of "Dr. Strangelove" at the Grace Street Theater. Chatting after the film ended, we'd both had lots to say about the racist (him) and feminist (me) issues raised by Kubrick's film, so we'd adjourned to the Village.

You know, the good, old Village, where you can count on some rummy at the bar reaching for his backpack, only to have a half-full 40-oz roll out of it, spilling, then clanking to the floor. As befits the Village, nobody batted an eye that night.

What I also recalled about our tete-a-tete, besides the 40-oz incident, was the hella good chocolate milkshake I'd had, while his memory involved asking me my opinion of Hillary and lowering the drinking age.

None of that stuck with me. Interesting, isn't it, how different people store shared memories?

Chocolate and drunks, apparently that's what chops through my bandwidth.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Every Day is Like Sunday

At least I was reassured that I'm a minimalist.

A few years back when I'd first met Beau, Pru had told him I was a minimalist, referring to my small apartment and limited possessions. But on his first visit here, he'd been unconvinced, mainly because I have an entire wall of book shelves.

"How can you be a minimalist with all these books?" he'd challenged me, eyeing my book collection like they were traitors to the cause.

So imagine my satisfaction in going to the Byrd Theater for the Environmental Film Fest screening of "Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things" and hearing Ryan Nicodemus, part of the duo that calls themselves The Minimalists (with attendant website and non-stop speaking engagements) explain that some minimalists do have book collections because those books provide them joy.


The documentary itself did not particularly speak to me (or Mr. Wright), though, because so much of what its talking heads espoused was common sense stuff. Don't buy into the American agenda that more stuff means more happiness. Duh. Consider the ecological affects of buying and discarding short-time purchases. Well, yea. If a high-paying job means all you do is work and not enjoy yourself, you're not fully living. Not news.

Each of the smiling, beatific minimalists interviewed looked to be white and well-off (and, if they were men, bearded) with great teeth. I don't know what the connection is, but maybe minimalism means more time for oral hygiene.

We stayed for the short film "Reefs at Risk" for the simple reason that since being in Islamorada surrounded by reefs, I'm more interested in them than before. What we wound up learning was that Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreen, is lethal to coral, which is a living animal that gets stressed, just like humans.

And, man, is it stressed right now.

Turns out coral reefs have declined 99% in the Keys, along with 40% in Hawaii and 85% in the Caribbean. How's that for depressing news?

Needless to say, I came home and checked my sunscreen ingredients, ready to toss anything offensive. I mean, what's the point in going to the Environmental Film Fest if not to feel bad about yourself and hopefully bring about small, personal changes?

Don't answer that.

After doing our part to be informed and more mindful of environmental issues, we moved on to conversation and an extended meal at Max's on Broad, where a new menu had been rolled out a few days ago. Never especially attached to the old menu, I figured it was worth a short walk to see what my neighborhood Franco-Belgian restaurant was offering up.

Besides, that is, our favorite seats all the way at the end of the bar, past where it turns, and behind the gigantic espresso machine. You gotta want it to end up there.

The bartender gave her seal of approval to our choice of a Catalonian Cava and let us take all the time we wanted between courses. It probably helped that there were only a couple people at the bar at any given moment, and they were employees.

We both gave high marks to the onion and carrot-laden beef and farro soup we started with, which was hearty, beefy and perfect for dropping hunks of French bread into to absorb that broth. Surely it was our Irish and Polish peasant stock that made us wish for a vat of that soup and a full loaf of crusty bread.

Next came charred broccoli over French onion dip with salted Ricotta and pickled onions, a dish that tickled every taste bud I had and left me wishing for more. Tuna tartare with grapefruit, lime zest and shavings of cured egg yolk rested on a bed of squid ink, making for a very dramatic presentation. A curly kale caesar salad with shrimp was virtuous enough to justify salted caramel apple pie with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Sitting by the big front windows gave us a panoramic view of the rain falling on Broad Street and the limited foot traffic out in it. My best guess was that everyone was at home watching Kacey Musgraves take claim to two Grammys.

By the time we finished sipping, supping and talking about past, present and future, four hours had elapsed - nine if you count from when we began with Nate's bagels pre-Environmental Film Fest - and my neo-minimalist apartment called.

You know, the one where I'm currently reading the late Jane Juska's eminently readable "A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late Life Adventures in Sex and Romance." Talk about sparking joy, Mac's already asked to read it when I'm finished.

Because, as one of the beards with good teeth told us today, not every good minimalist has to give up her books.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Cast Your Fate to the Wind

It's shaping up to be a tragic weekend.

Meaning I went to see my second tragedy in two days, this time Sophocles' masterpiece of Greek tragedy, "Oedipus."

Except with a twist: Firehouse's production is "Oedipus, a Gospel Myth," which tells the Oedipus story within the framework of a black southern church service in the 1920s.

Praise the lord and pass the collection basket (yes, that really happened tonight).

But not any kind of church service this heathen has ever been to. When I first walked into the theater, the pianist, three-woman gospel choir and Jeremy V. Morris as the robe-clad preacher were all already onstage. But a minister's not going to let congregants come in without greeting them, so he called out a deep-voiced "hello!" and asked how I was doing this evening.

When I told him I was fine but expected to be better by the end of the evening, he smiled widely and said he hoped I would, too. From there, I found an unreserved seat in the second row, conveniently next to one my fellow theater panel members and his wife and in front of another, so with my people you might say.

Once the play began, the preacher made it clear that this was going to be a call and response kind of a service, with a fair amount of clapping in between. He went on to lay the groundwork for the story, explaining that the oracle had told Oedipus' father that he would die at his son's hands and marry his mother, a prospect so foul that it caused the preacher to let out a rousing, "Mercy!" in response.

For that matter, Morris was pitch perfect playing the holy man, the cadence and phrasing of everything he said pulling the listeners in. During one song by the gospel choir, he used his feet as percussion to punctuate the music, moving across the stage and finally behind the pulpit stepping in time.

At intermission, I heard a woman mention not only how incredibly talented the cast was, but how much obvious experience they had. And there is nothing like three strong soulful women's voices raised in gospel music.

Much the way I revel in seeing an all-female cast (say, "Alice" or any of the gender-reversed Shakespeare plays I've seen), it was positively life-affirming to see a production with an all-black cast, never more so than while the subject of blackface and minstrel shows continues to dominate the news feed, not just in Virginia but beyond.

New to me was R.O. Crews, who played Oedipus' uncle/brother-in-law Kreon, with a clarity of speech and a sensitive bent, but every time I looked at him, I saw Gerry, my best friend's ex-husband. It was a little eerie and I kept expecting him to start salsa dancing or something.

Of course, a play written in 429 B.C. is bound to have a few dated moments, never more so than when dl hopkins as the blinded Oedipus entreats Kreon to look after his daughters once he's exiled. "Don't let them live unmarried and helpless," he begs.

News flash, Sophocles, the two qualities are not one and the same, although it reminds me a little of my Mom who's always insisted she can't die because I'm not married.

What kind of insolent daughter would I be to give her her wish if it means she'll then be able to die? Hell, Oedipus and I could be cellmates, the father-killer and the mother-killer. No, thanks.

On the humorous side, during a discussion of the plagues - land and women being no longer fertile - affecting their city and how to address them, someone says the goal is to make Thebes great again.

Ba dum bum.

One of the most difficult monologues to hear was delivered by Keaton Hillman as the servant boy who explained how Oedipus' wife (and, technically, mother) Jocasta had hung herself and how Oedipus had then removed the two brooches from her gown and used the pins to repeatedly stab his eyes and blind himself.

It was a long, painful explanation, graphic in nature and told in the most heart-wrenching manner. Hearing it spoken like that was even more difficult than seeing Oedipus come out with a bloody bandage over his eyes and blood-stained shirt and pants.

And, just like last night's tragedy, things ended about as badly as they could.

Walking out of the Firehouse into the unpleasantly cold night air, a group of theater-goers walked behind me talking excitedly about the play. "I got confused at one part about what was going on," one of the women said. "Now, who was Kreon?"

Mercy, that's about all I can say to that.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Crumbs from the Feast of Love

Any day when I hear the Stranglers' "Skin Deep" on the radio - its lyrics even more salient in 2019 than 1984 when it was written - is bound to be an interesting day.

Or at least make me smile.

As usual, my walk to the river and back takes me through Capital Square where I pass the now-omnipresent media trucks - CNN, CBS, NBC, assorted others with no identifying signs beyond the satellite dishes atop the vans - waiting for the dumpster fire that is our current state administration to officially burn out. On Wednesday Mac and I had run into into two female anti-abortion protesters (because, let's face it, they're not pro-life or they'd worry about how those babies would be raised), complete with illustrated signs ("Mama, don't kill me! ~ baby), and a speech being given on the steps of the capital.

Just another day in the Old Dominion.

At Kroger later in the afternoon, I get a shot of youth when I'm behind two VCU guys, each with a four-pack of alcohol in their hand and already anticipating Friday's pleasures. "You gonna do shots or are you just gonna drink tonight?" the big one asks the other. "Both, I think," he responds, but without much conviction.

Ah, the pressures of being young and having a weekend of drunkenness ahead of you.

Serious noise was the soundtrack to an afternoon of writing on Clay Street. Thursday I'd lost the tree directly across the street from my apartment of ten years and today, the tree police showed up and amputated any number of branches on the two large trees on my side of the street, the ones that have framed my view for as long.

The sense of being in a treehouse from my second floor perch, always lesser in winter anyway because of bare branches, will have to wait for the trees to leaf out.

I met up with Beau for dinner at Alewife, followed by "Cyrano de Bergerac" at Swift Creek Mill, Pru having opted out because of the countless times she's seen, read or studied the play. Personally, any play that introduced the word "panache" into the English language is going to call to me.

When we got to Alewife, it was lightly populated and when we headed out two hours later, people were stacked up at the bar, waiting for tables. Sometimes it pays to be obscenely early for dinner.

The evening's wine special was an orange wine, Sebastion Riffault "Akmenine" Sancerre, described as funky and vegetal, which got both our attention. Love the region, love the grape, adore some funk. When our server hedged her bets by asking if we wanted to taste it first, we demurred. Not bloody likely a wine is going to come out of Sancerre that we can't drink.

Creamy with funk and a bit of smokiness suited us just fine.

Although we didn't intend to go rich, our selections took us there. Right off the bat, I wanted to try the smoked whitefish dip (which turned out to be snapper), in tribute to all the smoked fish dips Mr. Wright and I had eaten in the Keys. Alewife's, though, was a horse of a different color, combining, as it did, not just fish and a bit of mayonnaise, but also cream cheese and horseradish and served with pickled onions, celery and house focaccia crisped with oil and some time in a pan.

Truly decadent first course eating, and that's not even allowing for the housemade hummus riding shotgun. It's hard to appreciate good hummus when cheese dip calls its siren song.

What do two friends talk about when the person who connects them - his main squeeze, my long-time friend - isn't present? Why, her, of course. Beau regaled me with tidbits from the early days of their courting, sharing that he'd gotten only as far as their fourth meeting (because they never referred to them as "dates") before stating that he had designs on her and the rest of her life.

I can't say I have a problem with a man stating his intentions, even as early as the fourth face-to-face.

Next came the fried course, which necessitated me switching to bubbles, namely the Catalonian Cava Macaveo Xarel-lo, to keep pace with the fried.

We dove into crab hushpuppies with preserved lemon vinaigrette and crab roe dust and Buffalo sugar toads, the latter a distinctive take on the little fish usually served in a butter sauce. These were fried up in a crispy batter and served with hot sauce butter, pickled celery and bleu cheese and immediately brought to mind Chef Lee Gregory's Buffalo sweetbreads from the halcyon Six Burner days (so, 2009-10?), back when the notion of Buffalo could only mean wings.

Ah, the dark ages.

Just so I could live with myself, our next course was a bowl of beets with a bit of arugula dressed with bleu cheese and sesame peanut crumble, a dish so loaded with beets that it reminded us of a long-ago meal where Beau and I had ordered a beet salad that arrived with nothing more than beet shavings, disappointing us both. Alewife's beet salad was for serious beet lovers.

Meanwhile, Beau regaled me with tales of his work comrades, one of whom wants to cook a meal at the manse for a crowd and only one of whom (his boss) who has the nerve to call him by the nickname they've all secretly given him. "Hey, Bowtie!" Bossman now greets him, which is pretty darn funny if you know Beau.

We closed out the meal with soft-serve chocolate/raspberry frozen custard for me and banana pudding for Beau, who especially liked the mashed bananas under the pudding. The smokey Islay single malt he chose ended up disappointing him, so we made tracks for the play.

Our drive south was accompanied by his "New Love" playlist, which he assured me catered to my tastes because it was full of new songs/bands he'd discovered and loved, like Christine and the Queens and lots of electronica which he and I both favor. Hearing Jade Bird, Beau claimed her heard a Sheryl Crow thing in her voice, albeit without the life experience.

Our seats for "Cyrano" were front and center, third row, making for a fine view. Artistic director Tom Width opened by telling us that "Cyrano" was written in verse for 50 actors. "We're not doing that," he said and got a huge laugh. "We're doing it in prose with sixteen actors."

And with lots of wonderful actors that we'd seen and enjoyed before. Dean Knight never fails to get laughs with his hangdog face and delivery. Jeff Clevenger manages to play drunk in, I think, every role I've ever seen him in and he's always hilarious. It's been far too long since I've seen Thomas Cunningham's expressive face. Debra Wagoner and Jacqueline Jones never disappoint and always delight.

Beau and I differed on Matt Bloch's portrayal of Cyrano, which I found brash and strong-willed, just like the character is written. But no, Beau saw his characterization as bombastic, although he allowed that it was less so in the second act.

The size of a man's nose is the size of a man's spirit...and other parts.

Word nerds that Beau and I are, we'd discussed jackanapes on the drive down, only to hear popinjay not once but twice during the play. What's fascinating is that both words mean the same thing.

No man has ever said more sweet nothings that mean everything to a woman.

For a play about unrequited love, there were some excellent sword-fighting scenes as well as literary commentary. When Cyrano is told that Moliere has been stealing some of his writing for his own plays, he dismisses the thief by spitting out, "Moliere!" with such disgust it sounded like a curse. Hysterical.

Your neck, I want to kiss it.

When all was said and done, Roxanne had been in the convent for 14 years and Cyrano is dying in front of her, Beau turns to me and observes, "Tragedy is always fun."

The end.

Stopping at a Wawa along Route 1 on the way home, I couldn't help but notice a man in a flannel shirt with a gun holstered at his hip climbing into a giant truck. Open carry, my ass, it was time to get out of Colonial Heights and back to Church Hill.

Pru was waiting for us at the manse, showing off how the porch has been augmented and rearranged in anticipation of warm nights ahead (sadly, it was too cold for a porch blather) and humble bragging that she's already read 15 books since 2019 arrived.

Talk about living the dream.

Once we settled in to discuss life and how sophistication is the tie that binds Pru and I together (Beau's theory), time got away from us, at least until my hosts threw me out sometime around 1:30 a.m.

As much as I love a good late night, it doesn't change my need for nine hours sleep, meaning that by the time I awoke, it was going on lunch time. Conveniently, a cursory check of the Interwebs had revealed that today is National Pizza day and Tarrant's was giving away a free slice to anyone who cared to celebrate.

Coming up from the river on my walk, I couldn't think of a single reason not to stop and collect my slice at Tarrant's Back Door. After putting it in the oven to warm, the guy behind the counter rang it up, looked at me and said, "That'll be one smile."

Naturally, I flashed him my most sincere grin, offering that I'd give up 2 or 3 smiles for a slice and then doing so.

"Thanks," he said, smiling back and handing me my slice. "I'll keep the change."

Talk about your panache...

Friday, February 8, 2019

Walking on Water

I was an easy sell tonight, having been on board since the beginning.

First time I went to a talk about Bridge Park, it was July 2015 and I was taken with Ted Elmore's notion of connecting the green space of the Capital with Manchester via Ninth Street and the ridiculously under-used Manchester bridge. Since then, I've gone to several other meetings intended to get the word out and each time, it came down to ducats.

So until someone shows Ted the money, nothing can happen.

Tonight's talk at the Branch Museum had a new twist because the Bridge Park project was trotting out a show pony, namely Londoner Peter Culley who'll be the architect for the project. After admiring an enormous map of Richmond hung on the gallery wall, Mr. Wright and I found seats for the talk.

Of note was that the chairs and screen were oriented in the opposite direction of what they've been every other time I've been to the Branch, and that's been at least a decade of lectures, panels, films and plays. Very strange that only now did someone decide to change things up.

Because apparently it's what architects do, Culley spent an hour showing us projects he'd been involved with, dating back to when he'd been project architect for Rick Mather Architects when they did the VMFA renovation that changed Richmond for the better.

No one was going to complain about looking at shots of our own stylish museum as proof of Culley's (and, originally, Mather's) philosophy that buildings must have strong ties to the landscape. So much so that he referred to buildings as filters between interior and exterior spaces, albeit in a low, British accent, and insisted that landscape was every bit as key as buildings.

"Interior and exterior are the same," he announced. "They just have different functions." In architecture circles, those may be fighting words, I'm not sure. In landscape circles, he may have ruffled a few feathers when suggesting using native plants- especially culturally relevant plants like cotton - and non-native plants, although a woman wasted no time reminding him not to use non-native invasive species.

Besides the VMFA, he had multiple examples of that to show us, from the 30-acre South Bank Centre in London along the Thames to the National Botanic Garden of Wales and its Great Glasshouse Interior landscape. The latter especially tickled him because, he said with a grin, "We were asked to put the landscape in the building."

Now you know he loved that.

His talk was broken down into sections - mounds, compounds, sheds and monoliths - and he managed to have examples of each that he'd had a hand in.

Talking about compounds, he pointed out that sometimes a single building tends to dominate the landscape, so the solution is to build several buildings instead of just one. An example he showed involved a homeowner in Orange County who wanted a pavilion overlooking his lake, Instead, they designed interlocking shed-like structures that allowed you to see through parts of them, providing views in various directions.

To replace the shabby shed/guard house at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, he had to satisfy the neighborhood association, Central Park officials because they were adjacent and the Met itself in creating a shed that both complemented the venerable building and was functional.

After dazzling us with mounds in Memphis and monoliths like a former Sears distribution center re-imagined as living space, Culley finally got to the point of the evening: what is envisioned for Bridge Park.

Displaying images and drawings of the ramps leading from the bridge to the river and Brown's Island, a more landscaped Ninth Street and lots of bike and pedestrian lanes, Culley made clear that this is just the kind of project he relishes. It was only during the Q&A when asked where in the funding process they are that he admitted that a final design won't be crafted until the cash is in place.

An idea I'd heard floated 3 1/2 years ago of making the current center walkway an express cycling lane was mentioned again tonight. As someone who has walked that center stretch, it's not particularly scenic, so I say let the cyclists have it.

Looking at some of the river views from the Manchester Bridge, it wasn't hard to imagine what a fine view Bridge Park will afford once it's a reality.

Chances are I'll go to a lot more meetings and talks before anything finally happens on this, but it's hard not to be encouraged by the forward progress of the project, even if it is moving at a glacier's pace.

Mama said you can't hurry love. Or Bridge Parks, it seems.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Life Shift

We had two strikes against us right off the bat.

Listen to me, I watch the Superbowl once and now I'm spouting sports metaphors.

The last two days of 72 degree weather had been enough to motivate Quirk Hotel to open their rooftop bar for sipping and sunset-watching, so that was the first thing on tonight's to-do list. At least it was, right up until it starting raining on our parade plans.

So instead, Mr. Wright and I walked over to Saison Market, passing the art scene-devoted Parker who was headed to Gallery 5, but not without mentioning that G5 is finally getting the new roof it's needed for years.

In Jackson Ward, that's big news.

Things were quiet at Saison Market, making it easy to score glasses of house Rose and order a couple of plates. Feeling far more wintery than the weather called for, grilled and fermented turnips in black garlic sauce delivered varying textures in a hearty dish meant to stick to your ribs. Arriving on a white plate with elaborate magenta squiggles, cured Arctic char gussied up with radishes, pickled onion, croutons and herbs were arranged atop the dramatic beet yogurt design.

You can be sure that design was a sloppy mess by the time we got through dredging our char in it and scoring more Rose.

Honestly, we could have sat there all evening talking about the upcoming Architecture and Design Film Festival in D.C. or the appeal of Tuscon or Austin in January, but we had places to be.

And that's where our second strike came in.

Weeks ago, I'd gotten an email blast alerting me that trumpeter Rex Richardson was playing at the ICA and put it on my calendar. I'm a long-time Rex fan, having discovered him back in the mid aughts when I saw his Rhythm and Brass group do a performance of his original work, plus stuff by the Beatles and Radiohead.

Hooked, that was the beginning of my Rex fandom.

Can't say I knew the trumpet could be so versatile until that night, but the many performances I've gone to since have only solidified my opinion. So of course I'd wanted to go the moment I saw the announcement.

My faux pas was in not going to the event page, where I would have learned that the event required tickets. Free tickets, but reserved tickets nonetheless, a fact I only learned this afternoon when I finally went to the event page and saw a big banner screaming "SOLD OUT."

And while that might have deterred a less savvy ICA-goer, I had experience in this arena. The first time Mac and I tried to go see a film there, I'd been the idiot who'd been unaware that tickets were required (yikes, I'm starting to see a pattern).

In my defense, most Afrikana Film events I'd been to before that hadn't required tickets. Still, I'm an idiot.

But Mac and I had gone anyway and learned that because the tickets are free, some people inevitably claim them and then don't show up. I told Mr. Wright and the woman at the front desk of the ICA that our plan was to occupy the seats held by unused ticket holders.

Worked like a charm and boom, we had second row seats, just a few down from Style's jazz critic and his posse.

Introducing Rex and the band was RVA music supporter extraordinaire Tim Timberlake (hey, D!)who correctly pointed out what an all-star line-up it was. Backing Rex were Brian Jones on drums, Randall Pharr on bass, Trey Pollard on guitar and J.C. Kuhl on saxophone, musicians I've seen dozens of times and will never tire of hearing.

Rex seemed impressed by the auditorium space, mentioning multiple times how great the space was and how gratified he was to see a sold-out crowd. Pshaw, as much as the man plays out all around the world, he was probably being modest since I'm guessing sold out venues are a frequent thing for him.

The performance was only an hour, but when the talent is that good, you take what they offer. Meanwhile, a cadre of students photographed and/or videotaped every moment for posterity, moving 360 degrees around the musicians for the best possible shots.

When Rex was introducing "The Tao of Heavy D," he mentioned that there was a good story behind it, but he wasn't telling it tonight. "One of these days, you're going to tell that story," sax player J.C. admonished him.

The band played several songs off Rex's "Blue Shift" album, including songs by Brian and Randall, and of course himself.

When the set finished up and Rex thanked us, Carlos of In Your Ear Studios - the studio sponsors the series - got up and asked the crowd if they wanted another one. When the room erupted, he responded, "I knew that!"

Speaking of his admiration for Wayne Shorter, Rex said they were going to do his "See No Evil," though he couldn't do it like Wayne, so they'd do it in a different time signature. "Here's 'See No Evil' in 7/4!" he said, clearly pleased with himself. "We'll see how this goes."

You want to know how it went? Magnificently, beautifully. Between the acoustics and the talent performing, you'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone looking at their cell phone (okay, except a couple of students I spotted). Everyone there knew they were in the presence of musical magic and focused their attention on the here and now.

Walking out of the auditorium, I ran into a favorite couple, long married and very happy, I hadn't seen in months. Explaining my absence, I admitted that since meeting Mr. Wright, I've had little time for some of my former pastimes.

"Yea, relationships take a lot of time," she confirmed with a big smile. "But you deserve it. And you look radiant!"

Not bad for a woman who came to bat with a lifetime of strikes behind her.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Bombed Last Night

I have been to the documentary mountaintop and it was not only dazzling, but moving.

Also, mind-blowing. I just saw a movie filmed on location on the Western Front from 1914 through 1918 and voiced by members of the Royal Artillery, the King's Royal Rifle Corps, the Royal Sussex Regionals and other units of now-dead men.

If that's not extraordinary, I don't know what is.

Everything I had read about Peter Jackson's new documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old" spoke to me except his name. It's not like I ever saw "The Lord of the Rings" or "The Hobbit" trilogies after all, so why would I know him?

Because I never like to know too much about a film before I see it, I'd only read a couple of things about the documentary. So when I sat down at Movieland, it was a pleasant surprise when instead of the film, the screen filled with Jackson's corpulent form as he began introducing his passion project. He went on to explain that he'd gotten involved with the project when Britain's Imperial War Museum had asked him to use their footage and audio tracks to make a unique film to commemorate WW I.

Unique was the operative word here.

Not sure how he could use 100-year old footage in a new way, he eventually came up with a brazen idea. First, he'd use the existing footage, but adjust the frame rate so everyone doesn't look sped up like in old newsreels. Second, he'd colorize the film to make the figures in it more relatable. And third, there would be no talking heads, just voice-overs from actual WW I vets who had been recorded by oral historians back during the '60s and '70s.

The icing on the cake was when Jackson invited us to stay put after the credits for a half-hour documentary about how the film had been created.

No one needed to ask this documentary dork twice to hang around.

Peter Jackson, I'm sorry I had no clue who you were. I'm not sure which idea was the most clever or well-executed, because everything you did caused the soldiers to come alive on screen, which amounted to a cinematic miracle.

Early on, he mashed up old WW I posters with moving footage of soldiers for a combination of colorful but static propaganda ("Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?") with a black and white inset of soldiers marching and drilling.

The truly magical moment occurred after about ten minutes of vintage black and white film which suddenly morphed into color, like Dorothy touching down in Oz.

One thing I especially loved was the minutiae of what the former soldiers recalled about their days in the army. Almost all of them complained about the absence of strawberry jam for toast because apparently the army served apple plum jam exclusively. But having to shave daily, even when on the front lines, they accepted as just military protocol.

Much of the imagery was hard to stomach because you knew it was real. I don't need to see bloated corpses, dead horses or a man's hands and feet diseased with gangrene. To a man, all of them commented on the sickly smell of decaying corpses, made all the more vivid because of seeing them in color.

As one vet put it about seeing bodies with lungs or guts on the outside, "It was a fantastic exhibition of anatomy." How's that for a positive spin about seeing so much carnage?

And don't get me started on the ubiquity of bad teeth or seeing the Scottish regiments in kilts, marching onto the battlefield with bagpipes and who knows how little underneath.

Yet another winning decision was to have a forensic lip-reader transcribe what men were saying when their lips are moving so that British actors (of the correct dialect for the unit) could dub in the dialog. As for what the men were doing while they were in the trenches, that was left to the vets in the voice-over.

Answer: thinking deeply and, because most of them were 14 -19 years old, telling dirty stories.

And because these were British soldiers fighting on the Western Front, they were always looking for a way to get hot water for a cuppa tea. Solutions included using the hot water from their water-cooled machine guns or from a locomotive engine.

For the scenes set during battle, Jackson had no actual footage (obvi), so he used illustrations from War Illustrated, a weekly paper during the war that used artists' sketches to keep the home front abreast of the fighting. Conveniently, Peter had several hundred of them at home. As it happened, he also had an extensive collection of WW I uniforms, which came in handy when the digital team was colorizing the onscreen uniforms.

"I also had a few pieces of WW I artillery, as you do," he deadpanned, saying they used it to reproduce the sounds of them being fired.

And not to sound like an idiot, but I'd never considered the origins of the phrase "the walking wounded" until seeing tonight's footage of bleeding and broken men somehow able to walk to the unit's next destination.

It was fascinating hearing these veterans talk about how they bore no malice to the Germans they were fighting. "They were just doing what they were told, just like we were," one observed. There was even footage of the German and British troops laughing and trying on each other's hats once the ceasefire had been declared.

Even the soundtrack, aside from the voice-over, was expertly done. If a soldier in the screen lit a cigarette (because these boys smoked constantly), there was the sound of a match striking. If someone joked and you saw laughter, there was the sound of laughter. Eerie for otherwise silent footage.

Most of the soldiers had joined the army as teenagers, so it was all they knew, making the transition to civilian life very difficult even with the free wool suit the army supplied them with on discharge.

Several said they were too far gone and too exhausted for the real world and no one wanted to talk about the war once it was over. Employers made it even clearer, posting ads that read, "No servicemen need apply."

Sounds like we're not the only country to mistreat its returning warriors.

When the film ended, I was gratified to see the extensive listing of all the men who had been interviewed, along with their units. Next came a credit thanking the oral historians who'd captured their memories.

But what really surprised me was that all but a half dozen people in the theater got up and left while the credits were playing. How in the hell do you watch a technological masterpiece like that and not be curious about how it came to be?

My new hero Peter talked about restoring and cleaning up the 100-year old film to the point that it was so concise that he was able to zoom in on lesser tableaux and blow them up as details. So while the original cameraman had been filming mortar going off, Peter showed us soldiers being shot, their horses falling over in the process.

He talked about how his goal had been to tell one small story from the many of that war, specifically that of an average British soldier and his feelings and thoughts. So we saw a battle-fatigued soldier marching, his hand trembling uncontrollably, saw men sleeping in cubbyholes created between sandbags 100 yards from the front with shells whizzing overhead and saw men with bandaged faces, their bloody mouths the only recognizable feature on their entire faces.

As I sat there watching the film, it occurred to me that brilliance of it was that it was a film for non-history types, but Peter clarified that even further, saying it was a film made by a non-historian for non-historians.

And, when you get right down to it, made for a documentary dork like me.