Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Movie, Almost

You don't go to the French Film festival for cutting edge cinema.

As Pru pointed out when she declined my invitation to join me yesterday afternoon, most of the films that get shown end up becoming available on Netflix, so your motivation to go has to come from something other than a desire to read subtitles (not that there's anything wrong with subtitles because some of us love subtitled films).

Besides not having a TV, much less Netflix, I enjoy the festival for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is reveling in being at the FFF now that there are comfortable new seats (bonus: with cup holders) to spend hours in. Those years of camping out in seats with springs digging into our backsides and torn fabric are but a distant memory.

The film Pru had passed on was "Abdel et la Comtesse," a charming comedy about a Contessa with no sons, only a daughter to whom she couldn't pass down the nobility title of her late husband. To the rescue comes a jailbird named Abdel, who also happens to be an art-savvy thief who knows which objets d'art to take and which to leave behind because he's that well-informed about art.

Plus he ultimately has a heart of gold, a code of honor and the Contessa's veterinarian daughter falls for him, but only after Abdel teaches the Contessa to throw gang signs, walk like she doesn't care and take on a local gangster who looks to be about 10.

Plot aside, the movie gave me several French film staples that I love: a gorgeous, old chateau, a character who smokes everywhere and a love story.

Because I've been going to the festival for so many years, it always boggles my mind when I run into somebody without a clue what's going on. That was the case after Mr. Wright and I ate at Branch and Vine when we finished and the chef inquired, "What's next?" After sharing our intention to see a film at the FFF, she was gobsmacked. "Oh, so that must be what the crowds of people were about. I stopped by Carytown on the way over and it was mobbed!"

Okay, I can understand people not going to see French films, but how could you not even know about the four-day event? Especially since it's been going on now for 27 years. But I try not to judge.

Mr. Wright and I were headed back to the Byrd a few hours later when I ran into a couple of people I knew, another reliable perk of the FFF.

First there was the Frenchman, looking tanned and rested, whom I hadn't seen since he closed his restaurant so he could have more time to be with his aging parents in France. Next came the woman I'd met a few years ago at a music show when she first moved into the city. Introducing me to the woman she was with, she explained that her friend was a glass artist and that I wrote for Style Weekly.

It struck me that she was reducing us both to an easy description and I challenged her about how she'd describe herself as succinctly. I know her as a painter and a cyclist, but she admitted she'd have described herself as a graphic designer, which is how she pays the rent.

Funny how we reduce ourselves to what we do for money.

We'd all come to see "Le Collier Rouge," a film set in 1919 about a man conscripted into WW I. It's unfortunate for him because it happens shortly after meeting and falling in love with a woman at a nearby farm after she asks that he make a delivery of hay to her. The audience realizes that they're hot for each other because he's worn his Sunday suit to drop off the hay and she has put on a lovely white eyelet blouse to work in the garden while awaiting his arrival.

I mean, come on, some of us don't even shower unless we have a date, so I see getting gussied up is a sure sign of obvious mutual attraction.

The story, which was told in flashbacks, followed the man into the horrors of war (there were several bayonet-filled scenes I had to close my eyes for) as he became disillusioned with the chaos of war and slaughter of innocent men. In a moment that can probably be ascribed to PTSD, he eventually awards his dog his Legion of Honor medal in front of the entire village and gets carted off to jail for treason.

Naturally, it, too, had several standard issue French film cliches from using a bicycle as transportation to an old French house lit by oil lamps to a love story.

I'm telling you, I love French films for these familiar chestnuts.

After a leisurely morning and lunch at a bustling Garnet's, we headed to Carytown for the FFF one last time. Amazingly, we even snagged the same seats we'd had Thursday and Saturday evenings, minus the giant man with big hair who'd plopped down in front of me Thursday, necessitating craning my neck at an unnatural angle for the entire film just so I could read the subtitles.

But we hadn't allowed for the introduction of the French delegation, students and volunteers, a lengthy process that involves introducing every intern, every student, every Byrd Theatre employee, every actor, director and creative person involved with the entire FFF. I'd sat through it in the past and vowed never to do so again, but the organizers had slyly not included it in the festival schedule, so we'd been ambushed.

I'm here to tell you that I sat there for an hour and a half of the introductions and munched through a medium buttered popcorn before feeling like we were never going to see ""L'echange des Princesses" and giving up. Well, actually I just turned to Mr. Wright and suggested we blow this pop stand rather than devote any more time to waiting for a 3:15 movie to begin when it was already 4:30.

Au revoir, French Film Festival. I love you, but I've got limits.

Until next year...because. let's face it, I always come back.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Court is in Session

Basketball seems to be a big deal right now. I'd like to say I care, but of course I don't.

My parents do, partly because they're both big sports fans and partly because they both have money on the outcome. Mr. Wright cares, so he was at home cheering Duke on when I met up with Holmes and Beloved for dinner.

Walking out of my apartment, I spotted two female students on the porch next door sipping beers and blasting their radio (seriously, ladies, "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart"?) while just across the street, a young woman was directing seven others. "Okay, I need someone over here screaming in agony," she said, holding her cell phone and pointing. "And I need someone over here by the street crouching down."

A cinematic masterpiece in the making, I'm sure.

The fact that it was 75 degrees on a Friday afternoon meant just getting to Holmes' house was an obstacle course given the hordes of people at the VMFA (and the lack of parking anywhere along the three blocks between the museum and Holmes' house), walking dogs along the streets and in general just milling about as if they hadn't experienced a sunny, warm day for too long.

When I finally nabbed a parking space, it was next to a backyard where three kids were climbing up on to the picnic table and jumping off while shrieking at the top of their lungs while the mothers of these daredevils posed together nearby taking repeated selfies of the two of them ignoring the screams behind them.

But it was a short-lived parking spot victory because I was elected to drive everyone to Nota Bene, where an open door greeted us. The bar was populated with stools, not people, so we took up residence at the corner, close enough to feel the warm air through the door with a view of the rapidly filling dining room.

Debating what to sip, we took the owner's recommendation of a personal favorite, G.D. Vajra "Rosa Bella" Rosato, a refreshing Rose with a bone dry finish that all but begged for a warm day like the one we were reveling in. It was my opportunity to thank her for having recommended Lady Pi Pi's, the charming outdoor restaurant in Dubrovnik, where we'd had a fabulous meal at her suggestion.

"Someone told me about it and I told you," she shrugged. "Now it's your turn to recommend it to someone else going to Dubrovnik." Paying it forward at Lady Pi Pi's, so to speak.

Once we'd wet our whistles, we dove into the new spring menu with abandon to celebrate it having come out just today. Tender wood oven turnips got the star treatment with tuna sauce, turnip greens pesto and trout row. Since Nota Bene is where Holmes first began enjoying roasted cauliflower, we had to try the decadent new version with Perorino, black garlic, lemon and the piece de resistance, Prosecco-cured egg yolk.  Then to take it over the top, we had housemade burrata with snap peas, radishes and mint in whey vinaigrette, which we slathered over bread toasted with olive oil.

If we hadn't already ordered dinner, we could have stopped right there since we were all stuffed anyway. But Beloved had been determined to try the legendary white Bolognese bucatini with pork and beef and Holmes had been helpless when our server had announced a special of skin-on duck breast with, as he put it, "some kind of pommes," which turned out to be fancy hash browns.

Their choices made my mushroom and garlic white pizza with caramelized onions, Parmesan and Fontina seem like a Healthy Choice entree, not at all what I was going for but a damn fine pie nonetheless.

If it sounds like an obscene amount of food for three people, let me assure you it was. So much so that dessert was out of the question, a rarity for this group. Fortunately, Beloved and I knew that Holmes had laid in a chocolate dessert at the house for once our fullness settled.

Back in the museum district, parking spaces were emptying out and things were settling down a bit. Holmes forewarned me that while yes, we'd be having a listening party in the basement as usual, the TV would be on but muted behind Beloved's and my bar stools. He'd be able to see it and we'd never know it was on.

The plan was for an all media night, meaning we started with a CD I'd never even heard of. It was the Beatles' "Real Love," named after the Lennon song the three remaining  Beatles had overdubbed after he died and the demo was found. I've got to say, I found it really strange to hear a "Beatles" song I'd never heard before.

Next came one of Holmes' classic cassette tapes, this one a collection of songs by George Harrison and Eric Clapton doing a wide range of songs and covers. And while Holmes had neatly labeled which songs were on the tape, he'd not indicated the sources, a shame since some of the live versions had us curious about their origins.

Vinyl came courtesy of two 45s - John Hiatt's "Missing You," and the Go Gos' "Our Lips are Sealed" - before we dove into the Elton John record "17.11.70," an album taken from a live radio broadcast where his piano was accompanied only by bass and drums. His  cover of "Honky Tonk Woman" sounded positively audacious for 1971.

In between music selections, Holmes checked out the game and I realized that Beloved must have some interest because she was appalled that Holmes was rooting for Duke when he usually roots for whatever Virginia team is playing. "You even rooted for Liberty and they're a bunch of religious crazies!" she admonished him.

He refused to budge, so she retaliated by becoming an uber-fan for Virginia Tech.

Meanwhile, I kept my back to the whole thing, remembering a post by a reformed Christian friend that said, "Strongest evidence I know that there isn't a just god: Duke continues to win." Even my Mom hates Duke and that's saying something for my mild-mannered mother.

One of the more charming aspects of our ongoing conversation was Holmes enumerating some of the 99 reasons why he and Beloved should get married, a list that he added to periodically throughout the evening, apropos of nothing. So they can spend the winters someplace warm. So they can sell one house. So they can retire and goof off.

Interspersed with such practical reasons was Holmes' constant refrain, "Mostly because I love her."

Mushy talk beats basketball talk any day, no matter who's winning. That's real love.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Synopsis en Francais

It's that magical time of year when all the Carytown banners are equal parts red, white and blue and French speakers mill about on Cary Street.

Bonjour, 27th Annual French Film Festival. Glad to have you back.

And since it wouldn't be a French Film Fest without running into Barbara, we'd only gotten as far as Bygones before she and her new husband passed by and stopped to chat. It's sort of the unofficial launch to the festivities for me. Or put another way: every year for well over a decade, Barbara and I - always without dates - have run into each other socially because we were drawn to the same nerdy events.

We still do, except we now have companions who like nerdy women.

They'd just come from "Libre" and we'd just finished dinner at Greek on Cary and were headed to see a short, "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" followed by a full length feature, "Fait d'hiver."

Before going inside the Byrd, I chatted local theater with manager Todd, who had not only enjoyed TheatreLAB's production of "Sweeney Todd" as much as I had, but had used his specials effects skill set so that he and his wife had gone to see it with fake slit throats.

And lest I doubt him, he showed me photographic evidence.

Waiting for the films to begin, I checked out the crowd. A woman behind me had been to three of the four master classes offered this morning. The trio two rows behind me had driven down from Bethesda for the four days of the festival and like to hang out at "Con Con," as he pronounced it, at least until someone corrected him to Can Can. Meanwhile, an official usher draped personalized seat marker covers on the three seats in front of us, a privilege for having donated cash money to the festival.

I'm happy to report that once again, festival goers were told to stay in the moment with an onscreen sign reading, "NO texting during screenings. Violators may be removed." Mais, bien sur.

The French are civilized like that.

French director Robert Enrico (RIP) was the focus this evening, with his first and last films being introduced by his lookalike son Jerome before being shown.

We were told that "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," yep, from the 1891 Ambrose Bierce short story, won at Cannes as well as at the Oscars when it came out. The story of a Civil War-era civilian being hanged on a bridge struck me as the unlikeliest of starting points for a French director in 1962, yet the film captured the era evocatively in shades of black and white.

I don't know if I've ever read the short story, but I think I must have because I somehow knew halfway into it how it would end.

As the credits rolled, a woman near me turned to her spoiler of a companion and complained, "You shouldn't have told me what was going to happen!"

Jerome had informed us that we'd be seeing "Fait d'hiver" on the only subtitled 35 mm copy of the film left in the world, which felt pretty special. I always get a kick out of seeing the blip on the screen signaling the switch to the other projector.

The 1999 film was set in 1970 and based on a true story about a divorced man who decided not to return his kids to his ex after they come for a visit. Although the oldest daughter escapes and returns to her mother, the two younger ones want to stay on with Dad, barricading the windows and doors and shooting at anyone who dares approach the house.

It touched on several issues - fathers' rights post-divorce, PTSD, the bonds soldiers develop in wartime, overeager media hype - while always keeping at the center of the story the fact that this guy sincerely wanted to be with his kids but his wife had full custody.

Mr. Wright took issue with its slow pacing because the saga unfolded over 16+ days, many of them represented by little more than the police captain deciding to give the man one more day to surrender. Because the captain had served with him in the military, he felt certain he wasn't going to do anything awful and wanted to give his old friend a chance.

And there was such a purity to how devoted to their father, not to mention fun-loving, these two kids were, whether standing sentry with a gun at the window or collecting the bottles of nutritious milk that the local doctor delivered at the roadside for them.

The interesting part was, when the powers-that-be decided that they'd wasted enough time (other divorced dads were publicly siding with him) and the tanks and gendarmes began rolling in, breaking windows on the house and tossing stinkbombs?/teargas? inside, the camera froze and the credits began rolling up.

"Oh, no!" the woman behind me wailed loudly. "They can't do this!" Of course they can, honey. Ever seen "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?" She was far from the only one moaning and groaning at the absence of a clearly expressed ending.

But, hey, this isn't Hollywood, kids, and if a French director who'd been making films for 27 years wants to end on an unclear note, more power to him. Besides, if the police wound up killing those two adorable children, I, for one, didn't need to know about it.

It's enough to know that I can count on four days of hearing French spoken and seeing French films that follow no American rules.

And most likely, another Barbara sighting or two.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Celebrating My Sex

Man, the women killed it tonight.

I'd invited Mac to join me for a 1.8 mile progressive walk with multiple stops, both cultural and edible, and, trooper that she is (and despite having been up since daybreak), she signed on.

Our first stop was the VCU Depot where artist Hope Ginsberg was holding a preview of her new work, "Swirling." Walking in, I ran into an artist who hugged me and thanked me for the piece I'd written about her recent exhibit. When I pointed out that it had been a show worth calling attention to, she'd agreed, suggesting that was mostly because of its universal theme: f*cking.

Hard to argue with fact.

Further in, I spotted musician Josh Quarles, who's also Hope's husband and partner in art-making, and said hello. "It's been a while," he answered, echoing something I've been hearing from old friends for a while now.

But then again, I'm only one woman and I've only got so much time.

Mac and I made our way through the gabbing artsy crowd to the partitioned off room where Hope's video was showing on three walls of the room. Ultimately, it'll be presented on three two-sided screens arranged in a triangle formation that will allow viewers to "swirl," that is, move around them freely, to see the different videos about underwater coral farming, reef restoration and possible outcomes.

The only way to describe looking at the scuba divers in coral nurseries in St. Croix is fascinating (I can't be the only one who had no idea that such a thing went on), albeit thought-provoking because of the United Nations report predicting massive die-offs of coral reefs by 2040.

My point? If you're still using sunscreen with Oxybenzone or Octinoxate, you're part of the problem. End of story.

Watching the scenes unfold on the walls was accompanied by the sound of many voices having conversations at the preview reception just outside the cordoned-off space, but other than that, it was a compelling piece of art that raised some important question about ecological priorities.

After stopping to chat with Hope about her art and our repeated yet thwarted attempts at taking a walk together, Mac and I headed to Soul Taco for dinner because I was overdue to check out the new spot on Second Street. The way I see it, J-Ward could use more casual places to eat.

Soul Taco was small but happening, with a wall of colorful art, music loud enough to feel like you were someplace fun and a uniquely soulful menu of Mexican staples. I decided on cornmeal-crusted catfish tacos (crispy, with tomatillo and corn salsa) and low country shrimp tacos (Old Bay lending its distinctive flavor to the sauteed shrimp and the crema), while Mac went with pulled pork carnitas and Mississippi pot roast taquitos.

Housemade limeade washed it all down as we sat on stools in the front window wishing for a time when all the unoccupied storefronts across the street have eateries in them.

Since neither of us had counted on Soul Taco having desserts, we had a Plan B: to score a giant piece of cake at Mama J's Kitchen. In what can only be considered a personal tragedy, we arrived to find the cake rack empty. Empty. Years of going to Mama J's and neither of us had ever been faced with empty cake racks.

Sitting pitifully on the end of the bar were a half dozen individually boxed slices of pineapple coconut cake, the only remnants of the day's original cake offerings. It wasn't what we were in the mood for.

Rather than accept defeat, we moseyed over to Lucy's, only to find that the flourless chocolate cake we were counting on is no longer on the menu. But Mac and I aren't quitters, so we made do. She couldn't resist their fried oysters and once they were disptached, we shared a housemade ice cream sandwich of dark chocolate cookies with vanilla ice cream (all the while wishing it were mint chocolate chip).

All I can say is, it shouldn't be that hard for two chocolate-loving women to score some dessert in the Ward.

Only then, once our savory and sweet needs were met, were we ready to walk over to the Basement for opening night of the Women's Theatre Festival, featuring four different one act, one actor plays performed by women and directed by women. Tonight's offering was "Pretty Fire," a production of 5th Wall Theatre starring Haliya Roberts and directed by Carl Piersol.

Beautifully acted by Roberts and skillfully directed by Piersol using only a red bench as a prop, the story of a young black girl born prematurely, exposed to racist name-calling in the north and the Klan (the pretty fire of the title was when the girl saw a cross being burnt by the KKK) in the south, ends with the young girl getting her first taste of stardom as a soloist in the children's choir at church.

Playing all the parts - mother, father, sister, grandfather, grandmother, mean kid, choir director - Roberts was a marvel to behold. Whether singing Aretha's "Respect," being taught her ABCs by her father or being terrorized by a bully, she created believable voices and mannerisms for them all.

From her fearless Grandma, she learned never to let anybody have the last word if you know you're right. From her mother, she learned the components of the "breakfast of life:" grits with butter, scrambled eggs with onions and sometimes hamburger and homemade biscuits.

Talk about life-affirming. Who couldn't conquer the world after that breakfast?

When the play ended, Mac and I looked at each other in awe. No question, the play had been a masterful choice and Roberts had nailed every nuance of it. So. Much. Talent. Then she turned to the woman next to her to say as much, only to have the woman share that Roberts is her daughter.

When I asked when they'd known how incredibly talented she was, her mom said they knew by age two that she had something special. Truly, what we saw tonight won't soon be forgotten.

And that, I'm here to tell you, is how you kick off Richmond's first women's theatre festival. Leave it to the XX.

All I can say is, let the estrogen flow, but let's make sure there's chocolate available nearby. It is the food of life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Let's Groove Tonight

The rules are different on a girls' night out.

Mac and I were eating at the counter of Galley Go To when she spotted the chocolate/chocolate cake on the other side. Since our pizzas hadn't arrived, we wasted no time in walking around the U-shaped counter to inspect the cake up close. And I'm not going to lie, the coconut cake sitting directly next to the chocolate did give us a moment's pause.

But then Mac decided the matter, announcing, "Nah, I want chocolate cake" and that was that.

Once we were eating our pizzas - the usual Bianca for me and Popeye's for her - she pointed out that we needed to finish soon so we'd have time to eat the cake before we left for the movies. That's when I had to remind her that we were going to see a movie about a middle aged woman looking for love, so there was no reason we couldn't eat our cake in the theater before the movie began.

All I'm saying is, I can't imagine they ever threw any women out of a certified chick flick for eating chocolate cake. I think it's in our Bill of Rights or something.

When we walked into the theater, we were the only occupants. Once we finished our cake, Mac asked if I thought anyone else would come. My best guess was we'd see 2 to 3 middle-aged women. As if on cue, two such women walked in a few minutes later. Next came a couple, surprising us both since we hadn't expected any men.

The final arrivals were a gay couple, bringing the final totals to 5 middle aged women and one straight man. Close enough.

"Gloria Bell" was a remake of Chilean director Sebastion Lelio's film "Gloria," except set in Los Angeles and starring a still gorgeous 60-year old Julianne Moore. Even in the film, a character can't help but ask if she's had work done and she's flattered, but says no. That she's gone on record in real life as saying aging is natural and she'll never have plastic surgery should make her a hero to all women.

Role modeling aside, I liked many things about her character, but probably none so much as her unshakable romantic optimism and her love of dancing as often as possible.

It was gratifying to see that I'm not the only one similarly afflicted.

So while she's certainly not the only woman of a certain age who still loves dancing, the world she inhabits has a leg up on mine because in hers, there's a club frequented by only middle aged people with nothing but good '70s and '80s music played.

Believe me, if such a thing existed in Richmond, I'd be a regular.

And between her nights dancing and her daily singing in the car (it is L.A., after all), that meant a whole lot of music from my youth. I'm talking songs like "Love Is In the Air," "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "September," along with the iconic dance floor anthem "Gloria."

Let's put it this way, there weren't many songs played that I haven't already danced to. Repeatedly.

But my favorite thing about "Gloria Bell" (besides John Turturro, of whom I'm a big fan) was how un-American a film it came across as. Since I hadn't seen the original, I had no clue how things would work out, so I was continually surprised by how the director handled a scene or outcome.

Like life, there were no easy answers and opening yourself up to love at middle age is bound to come with more than a few surprises and at least a little baggage.

Walking out of the theater after everything was not tied up neatly Hollywood-style, I heard my name called from across the parking lot. It was a guy I know, a regular movie-goer en route to see "Transit" and curious about our choice. Guessing what we'd seen, he said his conclusion had been that "Gloria Bell" was a film only enjoyable to middle aged women.

I didn't bother reminding him that gay men seemed to enjoy it, too, a fact he should have realized since he's getting a chemical peel tomorrow and will be unable to be out doing reviews for the next week.

Meanwhile, Mac took issue with the film's depiction of technology, informing me afterward that if a man won't stop calling you, all you need to do is block his number. Can't relate.

That aside, allow me to suggest to middle aged women across Richmond that chocolate cake pairs beautifully with "Gloria" and a girlfriend.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Porch After Dark

Today's glorious warmth translated to the first screened porch report of 2019.

Pru's birthday is Tuesday, but Beau is away on business all week. But since birthdays are a serious gift-giving occasion at the manse, Beau had organized an impromptu gift opening session followed by a simple supper prepared by the birthday girl-to-be.

I'd spent the warm afternoon at a Theater Alliance Panel meeting in the east end, discussing the first half of the theatrical season with my cohorts, a meandering discussion that addressed many things, including the anachronisms of a play set in 1940. A character in the play had been a repeat sneezer who had sneezed into her elbow every time.

As several of the critics had pointed out, no one in 1940 sneezed that way.

The funny part was that, until our discussion, the younger members of the panel had no idea that there'd ever been another way to deal with a sneeze other than projecting it into your elbow.

The times they have a-changed.

I'd barely gotten back from the meeting when I was summoned to the manse for the festivities. And while it was a low key affair in anticipation of the upcoming birthday and the blowout birthday dinner scheduled, any event that leads off with Roderer Brut is a celebration to me.

Even Beau, who's not usually a bubbly fan, had to admit that he liked it and that rarely happens.

I'm not the gift-giving pro that Pru and Beau are, but I'd brought a present nonetheless. Mr. Wright had taken a wonderful photo of the happy couple at Bar Solita - with him laughing heartily and her glancing at him with a knowing smile  - which had been blown up and suitably framed to fit the manse's decor.

But it was one of Beau's gifts that got Pru most excited: a new iPad. Like a kid with a new toy on Christmas morning, she oohed and aahed before peeling off the protective film and trying to figure out how to turn it on. When it turned out that all she had to do to transfer everything on her phone to her tablet was put them in proximity, everyone was dazzled by technology.

My first thought was, I guess setting up an iPad for me would be a bit more labor intensive given my lack of a cell phone.

As her phone told her what to do, we had a front row seat for the process. Eventually, she picked up the iPad and began preening - or at least that's what it looked like from where I sat - looking at herself in the tablet's screen, turning her head left and right and smiling. Then she did it again.

Silly me, the iPad was actually scanning her face from every angle, the better to recognize her. After all, no one wants their technology to be a stranger.

After a lovely supper of beef cubes in au jus, an array of roasted vegetables so good everyone raved repeatedly and a bowl of butter beans procured last summer on the Outer Banks (I love a hostess who plans ahead), we adjourned to the screened porch for the 2019 initiation of the recently redesigned space.

Another of my gifts, two metal candle stands resembling trailing ivy plants, had found a home out there since I'd given them to her at Christmas. Furniture had been rearranged for better conversation acoustics and everything looked fresh and ready for another season of porch parties.

Let the Roderer flow.

Pru regaled us with a story about being sent away to camp, where she was appalled to learn that she was expected to kayak and swim. Instead, she used the camp phone to notify a friend who promptly had her mother drive out to rescue Pru from lanyard-making and group hikes.

Some people are born with nerve, others have to acquire it.

Another of her anecdotes involved the teen-aged Pru zipping around the island on her Peugeot motorbike while on vacation at the family home in Bermuda. Seems she'd had her first bowl of chilled soup - cantaloupe, she recalled - upstairs at Trimingham's, a department store with a cafe on the second floor.

It was about then that Beau deadpanned, "When I was that age, I was going to Indian Acres." Without having any idea what Indian Acres was, I laughed out loud. When he clarified that it was a campground in Stafford County, I laughed harder.

Not all of us have the cosmopolitan teenage life experience Pru did. I know I never spent entire days with my uncle and his best friend Hot Dog sipping alcohol or smoking pot. Ah, youth in Bermuda.

Meanwhile, Beau polled the group about things worth seeing near Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is where he's headed all week. Since Memphis is only an hour away and I've been there, I could at least speak to some good spots there - Gus' Fried Chicken, the Beauty Shop Restaurant, the Absinthe Room - beyond the obvious: Sun Studio, the Rock and Soul Museum and if you're into it, Graceland.

Granted, I was that rare Memphis visitor with no need to see Elvis' digs, but to each his own.

Although Beau had requested that the porch heater be put on, it was a surprisingly comfortable evening to be outside until 11:00 or so. When I finally got up to leave, it was only because Beau had a morning flight out and I felt sure Pru wanted to climb into bed and play with her new toy.

Besides, the Roderer was all gone and no civilized porch party is dry. This isn't Indian Acres, after all.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Lady's Imagination is Very Rapid

Let's start with the walk.

It was noon and sunny, completely dead in places and abuzz in others. The primary groups I saw were cars headed to brunch and cars headed to the river, a fact I know from several conversations I overheard thanks to rolled down car windows.

Walking down 5th Street on the weekends is always a bit worrisome because of the things I hear parents telling their children. Last week, it was a mom telling her kids  that the building on the hill was the governor's mansion. When I discretely explained that it was, in fact, Ethyl Corporation, she shrugged and said they'd never know the difference.

But why lie?

Today it was a mother and son discussion after she insisted on holding something of his while he rode his bike down the fairly steep hill, especially for a 7 or 8 year old boy. The entire time he was inching down the hill behind me, he was reminding his mother not to hold "it" too tightly. She'd reassure him that she wasn't but he'd repeat the warning again. After the 4th or 5th exchange, she put on her Mother voice and said, "Don't make me sorry I brought you!"

Calling Dr. Freud. Who says that to a child?

After the deluge Thursday, the river is back to full roar, but walking the canal walk meant having a cyclist do a series of S-curves around me, while saying, "Great hat!" I like to think that's because I washed it last night so it looked particularly fetching in the sunlight.

Walking up Broad Street, I spotted a young woman in the kind of embroidered wide leg jeans (in that worn blue color) I haven't seen since the early '70s. The silhouette was similar to  a pair of sailor pants except shorter  and not belled, then with quarter moon pockets and all the embroidered flowers falling out from there down the legs.

When I told her how evocative (and adorable) they were, she lamented that she'd gotten them in Japan and never been able to find a similar pair. Just looking at them, I could tell how comfortable they were and she confirmed it.

In the parking lot of the Richmond Dairy building (where my Richmond grandfather worked, it should be noted), a guy had managed to wedge a good two feet of a parking lot median between his front and rear tires, so he sat there straddling it, trying to back up over the thing.

The whole time, the car is reacting by making horrible sounds and all I could think was, this had to be harshing this guy's sunny Sunday mellow big time. Not my problem, so I moved on.

All of which followed on the heels of last night's outing to Secco, then VMFA to see Quill Theater's "Pride and Prejudice."

Secco's patio was nearly full when we got there, not that we were eating outside. Mr. Wright and I had the same fabulous grains and petit greens salad we'd swooned over two weeks ago, plus roasted vegetables with goat cheese and an entree of rockfish over spaghetti squash pancakes with Romesco sauce, the latter a collection of things I enjoy eating, but would never make for myself.

Pru and Beau made a meal of an earthy mushroom soup, duck rillettes, vegetables and a cheese/charcuterie board that belonged in a still life. Beau and I both finished with a wedge of chocolate chestnut tort over orange marmalade, although I paired mine with Burmester Tawny Port while he got his buzz on with coffee.

On the table was a discussion of Pru's upcoming birthday, not just where and when, but how best to celebrate. How many people can an introvert stand in one evening? Or would it be better just to send out "Save the Date" cards for her next big birthday which is almost a decade away?

Those of us extroverted birthday celebrants never have to go through such machinations to celebrate ourselves.

Over dinner we discovered that not one of us seasoned theatergoers had seen a theatrical production of "Pride and Prejudice," which naturally led to talk about the film versions and then other Austen films.

Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Richard Grant, how quickly we went down the British actor rabbit hole.

Walking into the VMFA theater, we found a good sized crowd and looked for seats. Explaining to my posse (and not for the first time), I said that I like to see the actors spit. Coming in from the left side, we settled in fourth row center seats, not bad for later arrivals.

To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.

It's no wonder a 196-year old work is still being produced now given how strong and well-written the Lizzie Bennet character is. Even without the context of early 19th century Regent period mores, Lizzie's determination to wed for love not money is role model worthy.

There are few people whom I really love and still fewer of whom I think well.

And of course, a play about parents eager to marry off their five daughters, one that's full of quick wordplay and laugh-out-loud-worthy dialog, is going to appeal to a word nerd who's one of six daughters.

Joe Pabst impressed us all playing Mr. Bennet, his willingness to buck his wife's requests as well as his support for his daughter holding out for true love making him seem like a thoroughly modern man. Irene Kuykenall shone as Lizzie, as content to read a good book as socialize at a party and what reader can't relate to that?

Me, I always enjoy a good love story, especially between two strong personalities with confidence to spare. Where I overlap with Lizzie is that I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.

Because like Lizzie, I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

On Compounding Interest

Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You would't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help? ~ Marilyn Monroe

Rich people are not like us.

I know this because I've been slammed all week doing two things: writing close to 7,000 words for multiple assignments and driving all over Manakin Sabot, Westhampton and Park Avenue to interview the aforementioned affluent types.

Don't get me wrong, they were all extremely nice people, but then why wouldn't they be when they don't have to worry about money?

I went to one house that may as well have been an art gallery considering the number of pieces and name-recognition value of what was hanging on the walls and sitting on tables and in cabinets. I'm talking, Chihuly, Hans Hoffman, Grandma Moses and Dali and those are just some of the ones I was allowed to mention. And don't get me started on their original Bob Dylan drawing and Robert DeNiro, Sr. paintings.

At another house on the highest point in Goochland County, I strolled the gardens with the master of the house as he explained his fondness for delphiniums and foxgloves, the former ill-suited for starting in Virginia's climate and the latter a biennial that only blooms every other year. He solves both problems nicely by having a man grow hundreds of both for him and deliver them only once the plants are ready to bloom.

Then there were the owners of the 1850s Italianate mansion who bought the house to save it after extensive water damage had all but destroyed it. Luckily, they'd been collecting paneling, doors, columns, windows and pediments - that's right, pediments - for years before they had anywhere to put them. Ditto the 80 or so chandeliers they'd accumulated, all of which now hang from one of the many high ceilings in their home.

Meanwhile, I'm just happy my landlord is repainting my bathroom, trim and deck for the first time in ten years. Being poor means simple pleasures resonate big time.

And while I love what I do for a living, having to come up with 7,000 words over four days means pulling a lot of verbiage out of my head. You know I'm buried in deadlines when I don't go out a single night because I'm working right through until bedtime.

Recognizing that I'd been under the gun and without fun all week, the ever-thoughtful Mr. Wright had seen fit to reserve us two stools at the bar at Brenner Pass to celebrate me making my seven deadlines.

A little "Reserved" sign greeted us, while around us, there were only a half dozen other people at the large bar.

In the spirit of the evening, we kicked things off with Domaine Eugene Carrel Cremant de Savoie Brut and me finally letting out a sigh that could have been heard in J-Ward. Then I let loose a torrent of words which had been stored up all week because of me staying in except when I was doing interviews.

Luckily, he's a good listener.

Smoked trout, Marcella beans and fermented beet arrived hidden under a fan of radicchio leaves, a light yet satisfying start to the meal, the most surprising part being that by the time we finished it, the couple to our left was already paying their bill.

Wait, kids, it's still light outside.

Next came a platter of pillowy gnocchi gussied up with fava beans, bottarga (salted, cured fish roe) and sauteed greens, a dish that managed to be decadent despite its simple ingredients and a fine pairing with Steninger Gruner Veltliner. A big bowl of the cutest little baby turnips and turnip greens shone with only the addition of garlic oil, a dish that should be everyone's introduction to turnips.

To our right, everyone who'd been in place when we'd sat down was now exiting, soon to be replaced by the next wave. We hung in there.

Just about the time we were checking out the dessert menu, the replacement couple to our left closed out and moved on. For a Friday night, people sure were eating and running.

To accompany chocolate mousse with a crown of coconut, meringue and a dollop of lime sorbet, we chose glasses of Butler Nephew Co. 20-year Tawny Port, which all but guaranteed we weren't going anywhere anytime soon.

In fact, by the time we did decide to move the party back to Jackson Ward, it had been over four hours and the bar was nearly as deserted as when we'd first arrived. There's something to be said for longevity, whether on a bar stool or in a relationship.

A wise man knows that stellar company can keep a girl on a bar stool indefinitely, relaxing and unwinding after a killer week.

I mean, he wouldn't talk for four hours just because he thinks she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Bones of My Priors, an Interpretive Talk

You sign on to make potato soup and next thing you know, you're the unwitting star of "This is Your Life."

Despite that I'm practically drowning in work this week, I'd promised my Mom I'd make my usual trek to the Northern Neck to help her prepare for her annual women's club St. Patrick's Day luncheon. And by "help," I mean do all the potato peeling and dicing, onion and celery chopping, cooking and stirring required for 60 servings of potato and cheese soup.

Mom devoted her energies to making three loaves of Irish soda bread with raisins and caraway seed, only one of which I helped her with, though I did make a pound cake. This collaboration of ours has been going on for over a decade now, with my share of the workload steadily increasing.

I'm fine with that. It's a busy, messy, hot day with lots of conversation, all for a good cause.

But when Mom requested my help this year, she wanted more than a day of my life. She wanted me to stay overnight so I could help her schlep four crock pots full of soup, three loaves of bread, paper products, party favors and two floral arrangements to the Women's Club the next morning.

Of course I said yes.

But then it turned out that Mr. Wright was going to be in Irvington, so I suggested to Mom and Dad that he join us for dinner, an idea they loved. When he arrived with a bottle of Simonet Blanc de Blanc, they liked him even better.

It wasn't an elaborate meal for two reasons: I'd volunteered to make it and the last thing I felt like doing after a full day of cooking and baking was cook some more. Making a Cobb salad and baking a pan of cornbread was about all I could muster.

But the bubbles and the relaxed mood backfired on me once we finished eating. Out of the blue, my Dad begins lamenting to Mr. Wright, "It's a shame she didn't meet you sooner" and goes on to dissect my entire love life before he arrived on the scene.


I'm talking about him going all the way back to my first boyfriend and then discoursing on every man in my life since, although not in chronological order. He'd bring someone up and then start explaining why he knew that man wasn't right for me.

Every now and then, my Mom would chime in, explaining that she never really liked so-and-so, but my Dad was definitely driving the conversational bus (with the aid of more bubbly, of course).

The funny part was, I learned (or was reminded) of all kinds of things from my past that had long ago been misfiled or forgotten entirely.  Meanwhile, Mr. Wright got to hear about my bad choices in excruciating detail, from the one with a motorcycle to the one with multiple tattoos (before ink was cool). The long and the short-term. The ones I married, the ones I agreed to marry and then backed out on and the ones I lived with.

One, Dad claimed, simply wasn't up to the task of handling my large and talkative family. Another, to my surprise, had taken Dad aside and asked permission to marry me. That was news to me. And when Mom shared who her favorite had been, I didn't have the heart to tell her how lousy he was in bed.

Just when I was thinking that the topic was waning, one of my parents would mention another "prior," as my Dad dubbed them the very first time he met Mr. Wright, and the reminiscing galloped off again in another direction.

Truly, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if Dad had motioned toward the door and said one of their names and they'd come walking in the room to surprise me.

Fortunately, though, "This is Your Life" only lasted an hour or so before they'd passed judgement on every man I'd ever been involved with. Or ran out of steam, I'm not sure which.

That was when Dad turned his microscope on Mr. Wright, curious about what he'd been doing for the past decade since that's the period my Dad takes the most issue with.

And let me tell you, when you invite your significant other to dinner with the people who spawned you, the last thing you want is to put him on the spot about why he didn't find you when your life fell apart and you first became available.

Even if it turns out he has been available since 2009 and would have been only too happy to have started this relationship sooner if he'd only known.

"She's always been the smart one," Dad informs Mr. Wright, shaking his head. "And she settles for all these duds. How did it take her so long to find you?"

This from the man who just happened to be on a triple date with another woman when he met my Mom and was instantly smitten. Happily ever after is easier - and comes sooner - for some people.

Turns out a few of us have to kiss a lot of frogs first. But as a cyclist once told me, the reward for being a slow starter is a strong finish.

All I can say is, about damn time. And, Dad, better late than never.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Rest is Herstory

If we established anything this weekend, it's that I'm not hermit material.

I'm not talking about just living alone and away from people, even though I'll admit that's what I thought a hermit was until Saturday night.

It began innocently enough. Mr. Wright and I had plans to have dinner and see a play with Pru and Beau. No big deal. Then Beau asks if we mind if he brings a work cohort. Of course we don't mind. Next he shares that his friend is a former Benedictine monk. Well, as long as he knows he's breaking bread with a band of heathens, I'm fine with it.

But then, after we dodge green-wearing drunks wandering away from Shamrock the Block to get to Peter Chang's, we get the full story. He wasn't just a Benedictine monk, he was a hermit. As in, living away from society. Whoa. And he was part of a hermitage that was silent. As in, zero talking.

And even that's not the reason I'm not hermit material.

It was when he explained about the one meal, two snacks a day rule that I knew with the utmost certainty that I was not cut out for the hermetic life.

Go without three square meals a day plus snacks in service of religious beliefs? Don't make me laugh.

Why, just last week I said something to Mac about our healthy appetites and she was quick with the facts. "You can eat more than I can," she reminded me. She wasn't wrong.

Just yesterday, Mr. Wright and I drove out to the Kilmarnock Inn to have brunch with my favorite sister, her family and my parents, a meal planned to celebrate my Mom's birthday the day before. Now, mind you, we were meeting at 10:30 for brunch, but we had to be up at an ungodly 8 a.m. to make the drive.

So naturally, we had breakfast before we left. As I'm diving into my Stack the Votes (a plate of four enormous pancakes with bacon), I casually mention having had breakfast earlier and Mom laughs in surprise. "Karen!" she says, like I need a good scolding.

I remind her, not for the first time given the length of our relationship, that I can't function for three hours from waking up to having my pancakes placed in front of me, so I did the logical thing and ate first.

What's the fuss about?

I might also point out that after Beau's buddy explained hermit life, he also reminded us that he'd abandoned it. The fascinating part was that apparently being a hermit, even for only a while, gives you a lifetime pass to stay at a monastery should you ever want to.

That's because being a monk, even short-term, makes you a monk forever.

When presented with such unlikely information, all I can say is, pass the scallion bubble pancake.

Unfortunately, the ex-hermit couldn't accompany us to see "In My Chair" at Cadence Theater because the show was sold out, so after a stop at Bar Solita for dessert - in my case, double chocolate cake and Tawny Port - he thanked us for a delightful evening and vanished back to California and the IT security world.

The play we'd come to see had grown out of a TED talk actress and make-up artist Eva deVirgilis had created. Seems every time she has a woman in her makeup chair, the first thing the woman does is apologize.

For her bad hair, for the bags under her eyes, for her thin lips, for everything she can think of that's not perfect about her. Eva calls this "sorryosis" and set out around the globe to talk to women about changing beauty standards, self-esteem and body image.

And, just for the record, I hadn't even realized we were into fourth wave feminism.

Then she came back to take to the stage and make women aware of what she'd been told. She did it through vignettes using the accents and comments of women in her chair. She did it through the arguments she has with her un-confident inner self, who she nicknamed Norma after normative discontent. She did it through interactions with the audience.

Along the way, she shared her life story, including the part where she had to put up with a controlling boyfriend before meeting the love of the life, who also happened to be sitting in the front row that night, cheering her on.

Once during a Patriots' game, she'd asked him if he'd ever been body shamed, but he said no, other than being called short (which he is), he never had. I can't imagine there's a woman who hasn't been body shamed at least once in her life and probably more often than that.

Eva touched on many related issues, probably none so important as when she talked about accepting compliments, something many women, myself included, do poorly. "A compliment is a tiny gift someone brought to you," she explained. "Why would you drop kick it?"

Why, indeed? I had to admit, there's no good answer for that and I left hoping that's one bad habit I can unlearn.

Last night, Mr. Wright and I closed out the James River Film Festival by strolling over to Gallery 5 for the Silent Music Revival, but only after chowing down on fish tacos at Tarrant's Back Door. Don't tell my Mom, but it was technically my fourth meal of the day.

The thing is, when your first is at 8:15 and your second at 11 a.m., you've got to have something in the afternoon to tide you over until tacos show up at 7:30, am I right?

Life in the hermitage, clearly not for me.

Showing tonight was Jean Vigo's "Zero for Conduct," a 1933 French short film that was immediately banned for its content, with live music provided by the Wimps, whose lounge-like '60s vibe somehow made for the ideal accompaniment to French boys tying up their teacher, trashing their dormitory and marching through the streets victoriously.

Vigo was moved to make the film because of the repressive days he'd spent in a boarding school where he suffered with mean teachers. frequent punishments and, wait for it, insufficient food.

There you have it. Deny a person food and they might make a subversive film or they could return to the dark underbelly of IT security. Either way, they're hungry.

I'm better off just eating as frequently as possible. As for apologizing for my appetite, no sorryosis here.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

With Apologies to Great Grandma

I should have enough of my Great Grandmother O'Donnell's blood in my veins to sense it a mile away.

Instead, a row of cars parked along Leigh Street with yellow "RMC parking" passes was my first clue. Next came a thumping bass and beer trucks. And cops, so many cops and I'm talking bike cops, motorcycle cops and cops with boots on the ground.

Holy mother of bad ideas, why had I walked west today instead of my usual river walk?

By the time I'd started up Meyers Street, parallel to the Boulevard, the music had morphed to smooth jazz and I saw my first cotton candy vendor. It was barely noon so things were just getting cranked up and the cops looked bored.

Meanwhile, people in green attire gravitated to the Boulevard with purpose. They meant to get their green beer on sooner rather than later.

Once I reached CVS, I could see the main stage and hear the emcee welcoming the early arrivals. "Hey, there! You guys ready to shamrock the block?" The band behind him kicked into Cee Lo Green's "Crazy," which struck me as an ideal song with which to launch a drinking festival.

St. Patrick, give me strength.

Walking east on Broad Street, a guy on bike pulled up next to me to question why I had on pink and black rather than green. Um, because it's not St. Patrick's Day yet? After digesting that bit of intel, he suggested we meet up in the same place tomorrow, except with me in green. When I declined, he asked if I was married. I clarified.

"Oh, okay, well tell him he needs to see you in a green dress tomorrow," he instructed, pedaling off and waving back at me.

So now I'm taking wardrobe instructions from a stranger?

He had seen me in a black dress last night when we landed at Secco to celebrate us both being in the same city two nights in a row for what feels like the first time since February, an occasion that called for the fresh minerality of Raventos i Blanc Brut Rosat de Nit to start.

But good as it was, dinner was every bit as stellar. Housemade pita drizzled in olive oil showed up with spinach falafel and pickled vegetables, simple but winning. Chapitre Touraine Sauvignon Blanc replaced pink bubbles to whet my whistle.

In what can best be described as a salad for salad lovers, a bowl of farro, lentils, wild rice, pepitas, smoked almonds and petite greens with a killer cranberry vinaigrette revealed a smorgasbord of textures and tastes.

We'll just call it as close to my salad ideal as I've come and leave it at that.

And I might have ordered another except that the Spanish octopus with housemade fettuccine, olives and chili oil in a decadent Bolognese sauce arrived and completely distracted me. If everyone's first octopus experience included octopus this tender and meaty red sauce this deeply flavorful, everyone would be an octopus fan.

Well, except for the part that they're smart and feel pain, but besides that.

We closed out with a chocolate chestnut torte set atop a pool of orange marmalade and festooned with preserved kumquat, a dessert with as high a percentage of dark chocolate - it was only barely sweet - as I've had. It was the marmalade's job to bring the sugar.

Apparently tomorrow, it's my job to bring the green dress. I know, I know.

No great granddaughter of Mrs. O'Donnell (as my grandmother always called her) would make that rookie mistake.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Never Too Much

76 degrees today and it's a whole new world.

Of course, that meant the ants arrived in my kitchen, not the full colony but definitely a scouting party out on a sunny afternoon. I don't know where they've been all these cold months, but they're baaack.

The real pleasure was in getting to take my first shower in 2019 with the large bathroom window fully open (and by large, I mean 3' x 3' not bad for a room often designed with notoriously small windows). What was truly glorious was getting out the shower and not feeling cold. I could get used to this.

When Mr. Wright showed up, we ambled over to the Main Library for a presentation by Adventure Cycling Association, a group that does everything it can to get ordinary people on two wheels and doing cycling trips that involve overnight stays.

So, as you can imagine, I fit right in like a sore thumb.

That's not true because on the table next to all the cycling magazines laid out for the taking were boxes and boxes of Red Eye cookies and I can eat with the best of them, so I snagged a chocolate chunk cookie and got out of the way of cyclists looking for fuel.

When the presentation began, the first thing the guy said was, "There's one cookie left, so if you're a sprinter, go for it now." With my cookie tucked safely inside a napkin, no sprinting was required on my part.

First there was a video showing two non-cyclists setting out on their first cross-country trip and documenting it, like millennials do. The video showed them hot and sweaty, eating everything in sight at a restaurant, facing the mountain they were about to climb ("Death," she predicts) and having a dance party on a deserted road. When they finally got to the 1,000 mile mark and he got excited, she pointed out that, "It only took us, like, 48 days."

Apparently such are the pleasures of cycling as transportation.

Next came a passionate cyclist/big cheese with ACA who basically waxed poetic about the joys of bicycle travel and bicycle tourism while showing us what he called, "Bike travel porn." Heart-stopping views of two people next to their bikes in Switzerland, pedaling along the Rhine River, laying in a field in Tuscany with their bikes laying on the ground near them.

As to how he got all those great shots, it's part of the ACA ethos to send them a photo of you on a cycling journey.

But every now and then, he'd slide in something to fuel the movement. He shows us a picture of him and the Professor of Bike Tourism in Australia, gushing, "That's a job!"

Reminder: we can make this happen.

Then back to a shot of Quebec bathed in golden light and some very happy and tired people posing next to something interesting, their bikes at their side. The return of bike travel porn.

He tells the audience that Alaska was the first state to pave roads for cyclists. I heard about the new Johnny Cash Trail that loops around Folsom, with public art (like a 30' high rendering of Cash) and trail markers shaped like guitar picks. About the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route which starts off in Mobile, Alabama. He showed maps featuring all the new trails and how they're driving cycle tourism.

"And cyclists go to small towns, not just big cities," he enthused. "And they eat a lot!" Tell me about it. Those cookies were history just like drunk women's shoes after the wedding ceremony is over.

One guy went cross country and carried a hand lawnmower so he could earn money along the way to pay for his ride.

By the time the talk was over, every cyclist in the room (so, everyone in the room except me) was psyched, pumped up, feeling the call of the multi-day ride. So many routes, so many vistas, so many potential Instagram posts.

And adventures, I know, I know.

Afterward, conversations sprung up between less experienced people wanting to talk to cross country pros, while I had my eye on the prize. Food. Bike travel porn only get a girl so far.

We dipped into Bar Solita where every booth was taken but the bar was completely empty, sort of Edward Hopper-ish. Not a bicycle in sight.

And we ate. A lot. Maybe I do have the makings of a cyclist after all.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Got Your Pliers Right Here

Turns out I can date a house by its bathtub.

When Mac pointed to the unusually-sized square tub in the bathroom, she guessed its origins were the 1950s. Not so, I suggested, recognizing that size and style from a Northern Neck house I'd recently seen that had an identical tub. A house that had had bathrooms put in by its very rich new owner in 1932.

As a side note, I find it curious that I went a lifetime without ever seeing a square tub and I've now spotted two in three weeks.

Today's square tub was located in an International Style house (Richmond's first, it should be noted) in the Maymont neighborhood. Mac and I had walked by it many time (her especially because it's her 'hood) en route to Texas Beach, the difference being that this time we got to go in.

Thanks, Modern Richmond, for letting us be voyeurs.

As soon as we'd seen what house was being featured, we'd gotten tickets so we could ogle its interior. Like the master bedroom with two walls of windows looking out over the canal and river. And not just any windows, but the original casement windows that opened out.

All I'm saying is, if that was my bedroom, those windows would be open April through October and any 65+ degree day in between.

The house's current owners had combined a mix of old and new belongings. A vintage black telephone like the one in "Dial M for Murder" sat next to a computer screen. The sunny bedroom had a small, VCR TV much like the ones from the early '90s.

Mine was stolen the weekend I moved into my Floyd Avenue apartment, a convenient way to pull the plug.

Walking outside to the deck overlooking the river, Mac ran smack dab into the same stranger who'd been behind her in line at Lowe's in Short Pump last night. When the cashier's two pairs of scissors weren't able to cut the zip tie off the product, he'd offered to get pliers to help her remove it.

What are the chances their paths would cross again so soon? Or ever?

The former garage had been attached to the house and covered at some point, allowing for a raised dining room which could be seen through the windows near the kitchen. The flooring was the same as in NYC subway cars, so incredibly durable, although a pain-in-the-butt to install.The bathroom was drop dead gorgeous with a patterned red and black floor made of ruby glass and amethyst glass.

One of the owners who'd bought the house in 1987 and lived there for three decades gave a talk with lots of dirt about the house. It had been built in 1935-6 by Richmond architect George Edward Hoppe, Jr., an unfamiliar name I knew immediately I needed to go home and research.

So I'm a nerd and a voyeur.

Like how her husband had rented the house for $250 a month before he met her. How he'd finally convinced the owner to let him buy it for $52K in the late '80s - a gentleman's agreement with no actual documentation - only to have someone else offer the guy $92K. How the owner told the higher bidder he'd have to talk to her husband. Now, that's integrity.

During the ten-year renovation ("I now know how to use a Saws-all," she bragged), the couple knew one thing for sure: they were keeping the original windows, a wise move given how distinctive they are (that or the $30K cost to replace them all).

Also, they didn't need George Edward Hoppe, Jr. rolling around in his grave.

One of my favorite features was that while the roof was flat outside in keeping with the International Style, inside the roof was peaked, with beams visible. And although the house had originally been unpainted brick, it had long since been painted white, making for a striking contrast with all the foliage around it.

The couple who owns it now also spoke, gushing about how external feeling the house is during the day with all the un-curtained windows allowing in light and nature, but at night, it morphs into something internal feeling and cozy. Perched on a hill over the river, it was easy to imagine.

He pointed out that all the windows in the living room are at eye height to draw the eye outside. On the sun porch, the windows are at eye height when you're sitting down. Brilliant, George, that's all I can say.

"It's funny to live in a work of art," one of the owners admitted. "But that's what it feels like."

Walking out afterwards to my car, I spotted a friend coming down his walkway. From the screened porch above, his wife called out to me. It was the same couple I'd seen performing in their band last Wednesday at Capital Ale House. Their rock and roll aura was somewhat subdued. She was wearing yellow pants and filling a brand new yellow bird feeder and he was chatting with us about what we'd just seen.

But we couldn't chat for long because even though we'd already made a pit stop at 821 Cafe for a plate of my favorite black bean nachos, we had a movie to see at the Byrd.

Walking in, manager Todd announced, "There she is! Now we can start the movie," his kind of humor. Inside, buttered popcorn and Milk Duds procured, we settled in for 2011 film "Pariah" about a young black woman struggling to come out as a lesbian to herself and her family.

Tellingly, the woman who introduced the film. a familiar face from poetry and haiku readings, gave the most heartfelt of affirmations about it, saying, "Watching this film felt like the first time I saw myself on the big screen."

The movie had premiered at Sundance and won an award for its exquisite cinematography and we didn't have to get very far into it to see why. Add in the knockout performance of newcomer Adepero Oduye who played the woman and I was just sorry there weren't more people in attendance for the sensitively-acted and well-written story.

But then again, I can't worry about what others miss. It was enough to eat, ogle and watch with Mac and get her home at a reasonable hour since she'd been up since dawn. Maybe this is why people tell me they're exhausted being with me.

"This is the best Modern Richmond ever!" I heard a man tell someone on the deck of the Hoppe house. Later, during the talk, he repeated it to the entire room. Can't say that I agree and I've been to plenty.

But it was a fine introduction to a local architect and I'm living proof that that can be life-changing.

Oh, and I'll look up Hoppe, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Off with Her Head

You could call it just another evening watching simulated oral sex with my parents.

But before all that unfolded, I was in Urbanna by late morning for an interview with a 26-year old who owns a boutique. A woman who gave up living in the Fan to return to the Northern Neck to take advantage of a business opportunity.

All I could think of was how when I was 26, I was working, sure, but not at anything I loved (teaching correspondents how to write, back when that was a thing) and still going to clubs twice a week.

Not a bit concerned with investing in my future like this sensible young woman.

My afternoon was given over to a couple of Richmonders who also happen to own a marina in Deltaville. One part of me was thinking about their commute, while another was acknowledging that strolling down "A" dock admiring boats that go for what houses cost is a pretty terrific way to spend a sunny spring-like afternoon.

And they get to do it everyday.

Once one of the owners found out my food background, he was the one asking questions, admitting that O'Toole's is one of his favorite restaurants. He expected me to judge but I told him every Forest Hill resident loves O'Toole's.

Once I was finished working for the day, I headed to my parents' house for dinner and a sleepover, a prospect so unusual that my smart alecky mother had observed, "Staying over? My, my, how things have changed!"

And while she's right, things have changed dramatically, the truth of it was that I couldn't see any good reason to return to Richmond when I had yet another interview on the Northern Neck the next morning.

Unlikely as it may seem, I do have a sensible side.

Before I'd even arrived, Mom had emailed, giving me a choice of dinner options and I'd picked chicken. But since she had no real plans for the package of drumsticks sitting on the counter, I resorted to the Internet, putting in on-hand ingredients to come up with a recipe. As I got busy making it, Mom returned to her chair in the other room, so I questioned what she was doing.

"Enjoying the smells while someone else makes dinner for me," she said happily.

But she did have a plan for all three of us post-dinner and that was to watch "Mary, Queen of Scots." She'd tentatively asked if I'd seen it and been relieved to learn I hadn't. She and Dad are big fans of British historical series, so this film seemed like a natural for them.

Only problem was, I don't think Mom was expecting to see Lord Darnley, Mary's second husband, pleasure her orally. She certainly wasn't expecting to see Ismael, Mary's gay confidante, violently stabbed by a group of her subjects. And I'm almost positive she didn't see the Earl of Bothwell's rape of Mary coming.

What I couldn't deal with was the colorblind casting, despite being a fan of the practice. But do I believe for a moment that Elizabeth I had a Chinese lady-in-waiting? I do not. Or that Lord Thomas Randolph, Elizabeth's adviser, was black? Sure don't.

And while I understand the director's reluctance to shoot an historical drama with an all-white cast in the politically correct times, if the actors don't make sense visually, what have you accomplished?

By the end of the movie, we were all sort of underwhelmed and went to bed. But this morning at breakfast, when I admitted to some historical curiosity about the real Mary (I mean, besides her sex life, which we were current on), both copped to some questions themselves. Out came the iPad, joining the Washington Post and Richmond Times Dispatch at the breakfast table so we could all learn a little more about the Scottish queen.

In other words, the nerdy apple doesn't fall too far from the nerdy tree.

Of course Mary didn't really wear an elaborate red gown for her beheading (too obvious). But after fact-checking, I was sorry that they hadn't shown the moment when the executioner lifted up her head for the crowds to see, only to have the head go rolling away because she had on a wig.

Come on, why pass up that kind of cinema verite?

After breakfast, Dad invited me to ride shotgun as he did a few errands in Kilmarnock, a trip that resulted in the overhead door to his trunk dropping on my head ("We need to get that fixed," he said, stating the obvious), which hurt like hell. My head may be hard, but those doors are heavy.

The outing also took us past a gang of convicts picking up trash in Lively under the watchful eye of a man with a rifle. I've no doubt it sucks to be a convict, but these guys really couldn't ask for a more glorious March day to be out in the sunshine.

After bidding so long to the people who spawned me, I drove back to Kilmarnock for another interview. This one was right on Main Street and if there's a busy time in a town like Kilmarnock, it's lunchtime. The sidewalk was full of slow-moving people coming in and out of shops and restaurants like they had all day to get their business done.

Which, given that this was the Northern Neck at mid-day on Tuesday, they probably did. Besides, no one is in a hurry after they've had a slice of pie after lunch at Lee's.

Crossing the arching Norris bridge - which my Mom fears and avoids - meant crossing a Rappahannock River covered in whitecaps, which probably explains why not a boat was in sight. I love the view looking down from that bridge because of the many times I've been in a boat going under the bridge and my inability to reconcile the two.

One thing I long ago reconciled is how lucky I am to have these two people for parents. When Dad mentioned that he'd just recently been at the doctor's office, it was to brag that his blood pressure had been 130/60, a major accomplishment for an 87-year old man, according to his doctor.

"I told him the reason is because of all these years with your Mom, the love of my life," he told me quite seriously.

Romantic, yes, and absolutely true. But I have it on good authority he also likes enjoying the smells while someone else makes dinner for him.

Some things don't change.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pop Songs and Shoe Puppets

Go forward, move ahead.

Despite the late hour and the green fairy that accompanied me home last night, I didn't forget that it was Devo savings time. I sprung forward.

But today's always such a funky day for me adjusting to it. I woke up lamenting having gotten tickets to a play, worried about using up precious daylight hours inside on a warm day when I realized that there'd still be plenty of sun after the curtain came down.

I almost (gasp!) forgot to eat lunch before leaving for HATTheatre because I wasn't hungry yet. Who knows how long I'll be up tonight waiting to be tired? Come on, Congress, stop the madness and pass the bills currently in both houses to end this nonsense.

But given the overnight clock change, it was nice to arrive at the theater and find that my seat for "Every Brilliant Thing" was an overstuffed armchair rather than a standard theater seat. I wasn't the only one, of course, because the set was made to look like a living room, with tables, lamps and the occasional love seat.

On the table next to me was a lamp with a pleated fabric shade and an open large print crossword puzzle with a pen sitting atop it. I wasn't going to start the crossword puzzle (really, I wasn't) but I spotted #49 down's clue - "plant that treats burns" - and how was I not going to write "aloe" in those four little boxes?

I was still scribbling answers when Chris Hester, star of the one-man play, came over and asked me to take two cards, both with a number and a phrase on them. My only job was to take note of the numbers and read off the words when he said that number.

#213: hammocks
#753: ham biscuits
It's almost like acting, right?

Obviously, I wasn't the only one handed cards to read. In fact, some playgoers were tapped to actually interact with Chris onstage. One guy played the vet to whom he took his childhood dog Paws McCartney (possibly the best dog name ever) and another played his Dad, driving him to the hospital and speaking at his wedding.

The woman closest to me played Mrs. Patterson, the guidance counselor who met with him regularly after his Mom's first hospitalization for depression and attempted suicide. Using her shoe for a puppet named Snoopy, she encouraged him to work through his feelings.

It's imagination that makes life worth living.

Retelling his life story from his earliest memories, Chris' character deals with his Mom's mental illness while navigating the world as he grows up. When he finally falls for a girl at the library, he has an epiphany. "Suddenly the lyrics to pop songs made sense to me."

Oh, good, so it wasn't just me.

Throughout the course of the play, his character works on an ongoing list of every brilliant thing, every reason a person should want to live, occasionally showing it to his Mom in hopes it'll remind her of why staying alive is worth it.

Instead, she corrects his spelling.

#186: conversation
#9,995: falling in love
#9,996: sex
#10,000: waking up late with the person you love

It's a sound list that begins with ice cream, moves through stripes and alcohol and touches on a host of life-affirming reasons such as seeing old people holding hands. With age and time, his character realizes that, if you get to the end of your life without ever feeling crushingly depressed, you probably weren't paying attention.

Can I get an amen?

The object of Chris' affection was Sam, played by a woman playgoer seated in an armchair near the door, whom he meets at the library. In an anecdote he relates about spending time with her and his parents, he recalls how she tore them all up by singing Daniel Johnston's "Some Things Last a Long Time" while playing the piano in the kitchen of their house.

Finally, after years of emotional setbacks and long periods where he ignored the list, Chris gets to the one millionth entry: listening to a record for the first time and reading the liner notes. A singular pleasure if ever there was one.

The choice of the multi-watt talented Chris Hester drove the energy of the play, imbuing it with a believability and sensitivity that was truly touching. Whether unsure about why his Mom was so sad or ecstatic about finally meeting a woman to whom he could make reading recommendations, the audiences' hearts and heads were rooting for him.

And at just over an hour, I barely gave up any afternoon sun at all. Walking outside after we'd given him a standing ovation, people milled around chatting, just for the pleasure of enjoying the warmth. My only regret was being alone with no one to share #186 with today.

And I don't care how much imagination you have, no ham biscuit on the planet can take the place of #10,000. That's why they don't write pop songs about ham biscuits.

Awe and Panic

A heathen sits down next to a devoted church-goer who sings in the choir. What could possibly go wrong?

Before decamping to another play in the Acts of Faith Festival, Pru, Beau and I bellied up to a table at Belmont Food Shop for dinner. Beau's original choice for wine came from the Willamette, a reliable source for pinot noirs that please them both. This one didn't.

Our second try came from even more scared ground - the Loire valley - and everybody was happy with Domaine de Chevilly "Quincy," a Sauvignon Blanc with notes of peach and good acidity. The Pinot Noir, meanwhile, was recorked to go home with Beau.

An amuse bouche of gougeres came out first, followed by three spears, each holding two tiny confit duck hearts, causing Beau to reverse his prior announcement that he eats everything. He did try one, commented on the texture, and admitted that organ meats just aren't his thing.

Except for the organ meats he likes, he clarified.

Pru and I savored cups of mushroom soup redolent of tamarind, which is seducing me a lot lately (see: Rust and Stardust cocktail at Perch). The consomme-like soup was ideal for piquing our appetites for what was to come.

For me, it was monkfish with leeks and fingerlings in a brown butter sauce, further cementing monkfish's claim to fame as the poor man's lobster. Beau's vegetable potpie was the undisputed star of the table, a hearty gravy studded with vegetables under a flaky crust, while Pru's seared tuna delivered a lighter taste.

Despite being full to the gills, Beau insisted on his own butterscotch custard even after I offered to share mine. Like the butterscotch mousse I'd had last week in Annapolis, this was another subtle butterscotch dessert when I was really hoping for the oomph of a darker, more intense butterscotch finish.

At least Beau liked it, even if he was looking a tad over-full by that point.

We got to Richmond Triangle Players with plenty of time to spare, which allowed the man seated next to me to initiate a conversation. Seems he and his wife were there from Maryland because their daughter was in this production. When Pru and I asked if she'd gotten her talent from her parents, he insisted she hadn't. Their only talent, he claimed, was singing in the choir at church every Sunday.

Luckily, he didn't seem to sense that he was elbow to elbow with a card-carrying heathen.

The premise of "An Act of Gd" was simple: god comes down and takes the body of a somewhat successful regional actress with an Artsie award to explain that the ten commandments Moses brought down weren't the final version.

She's here to provide an update.

Knowing that talented comic actress Maggie Bavolack was playing god only made the irreverent play more appealing. She joked that Richmond has almost as many houses of worship as it does Confederate monuments. She claimed that when creating the land masses and shaping Florida, she knew even then that it was going to be shaped like a penis.

It was while she was explaining the commandment, "Thou shalt not tell others who to fornicate" that she said, "I mean the gays" that I first realized that the church-going man next to me wasn't looking at the stage. On purpose. Instead, he was staring off into the back of the chair in front of him, as if to avoid absorbing the sacrilegious things being said onstage. Occasionally, he'd look up for a minute and then avert his eyes when things got profane.

Maggie as god went on to explain creation and the pains she went to to make it look like evolution had created the world. We heard the story of Adam and Steve and why Steve was changed to Eve and what that meant for mankind (less master gardening, for one).

And sometimes, she'd drop a line so clever that most people didn't even catch it, like when she said, "I did Cosby his nectar," and Pru and I about lost it laughing. Any word nerd can't help but react to a new verb like that.

"Please stop calling my name during sex," Mags instructed us. "I'm not that interested." I can understand, with all the naked bodies she'd have to look at.

We heard about Noah and his wife Nameless and how there was no sea-worthy boat capable of carrying two of every animal. Period.

Particularly satisfying to me was the commandment, "Thou shalt separate me and state," followed by a demonstration of her on one side of the stage and state on the far side. There was exuberant clapping for this commandment.

"Thou shalt not seek a personal relationship with me," god instructed. "I like distance." Pru related heavily to this one or at least I assumed she did after I poked her in the ribs when god said it.

The church-goer next to me, not so much. He looked directly at his shoes while god made her case for not getting too close.

But the somewhat successful regional actress was honest, too, explaining that god is a brand, but that she has wrath management issues at times. "Faith and sausage, two things best not seen being made," she advised. Amen to that.

"Thou shalt not believe in me, just like thou shalt not believe in the Richmond Flying Squirrels," Maggie told the room to much laughter.

By the end, the audience had been apprised of the official ten commandments as devised by a more modern deity. Only the man next to me looked unhappy about the updates.

But then, he wasn't invited back to the manse, where the absinthe drip was filled with water and ice and Beau poured ridiculous amounts of absinthe into our glasses. Then we settled into Pru's comfy couch and chairs to dish. It had been nearly a month since we'd last convened to talk trash, judge others and dissect the play we'd just seen and everyone had come with stories and opinions to share with the group.

What I found out what that Pru finds me exhausting to be around because of her introverted tendencies. She freely admits she'd always rather stay at home in her pajamas than have to get dressed and go out, a sentiment I don't share. Although she can play vivacious and talkative when we're together, it's not who she really is.

Then Beau piled on, too, saying that while he has the ability to crank up his energy levels to accommodate me, he needs recovery time afterward. And here I'd always thought I was a cinch to be around.

Eating confit duck hearts and time with me, two things best left to the highly energetic, it turns out.

A nap ahead of time doesn't hurt, either.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Come Down in Time

Once upon a time when I was in high school, Karma delivered my first boyfriend.

Actually, he was more of a hand-me-down, since he'd just come from being a close friend's boyfriend. After dumping her, he waited a few months and asked me out. Since he was older, already in college and had eyes like Paul McCartney, I accepted and we became an item.

Then he set about telling me what was acceptable in his world and what wasn't. Listening to Top 40 music had to stop. Only serious musicians were worthy of my ears and attention. An artist like Elton John, with his piano-based music, didn't have enough guitar cred to bother with. Period.

But because I was young and he was my first boyfriend, I went along with all of it. He never has to know that five years later, I saw EJ live and ate up every minute of it.

Fortunately, that malleable, young woman eventually realized she could make her own cultural decisions, ditched him and went on to have relationships with men who didn't try to shape her musical taste (okay, there was that one in the mid-90s, but he did introduce me to some musicians I'd never have heard of otherwise).

That's the only reason I can think of to explain why, when Holmes asked what we were going to listen to last night, the first words out of my mouth were, "Early Elton John."

The unexpected craving to hear the music from a young but seminal time in my life came out of nowhere.

All I know is that EJ wasn't on my mind when Holmes, Beloved and I sat down at the bar at Little Saint and ordered a Negroni for her and a bottle of Mont Gravet Rose for everyone. I wasn't thinking about music when I tucked into a bowl of chicken vegetable soup with a hint of heat. And nothing else was on my mind when I downed my fancy toast except the mashed avocado, bacon, spicy honey and tiny orange sections astride the grilled sourdough.

Like the moment in a film when everything freezes except the music, when Holmes' food arrived, Beloved looked at him incredulously and observed, "I never thought I'd see you ordering a kale and grits bowl!" She had a point since he's not exactly a mindful eater, but the bowl's contents - flash fried kale drizzled with honey, Autumn Olive pork, cheesy grits and, just to take it over the top, a runny egg with hot sauce - belied the wholesome-sounding descriptor.

Whew, she didn't have to worry that someone had abducted Holmes and replaced him with a healthy eater.

The dish was obscenely good, with bits of crispy kale shattering everywhere if you weren't careful. He couldn't even finish his egg salad toast because of licking the bowl on the kale and grits.

Meanwhile, Beloved's lavash-crusted flounder over parsnip puree and braised kale brought her great pleasure judging by the moans and eye-closings.

It was once we'd relocated to Homes' man-cave that my suggestion of early EJ was floated. Holmes was immediately on his feet in an attempt to locate as much Elton John as his collection would yield. "I don't know if I have the one..." he said, allowing me to respond, "Madman Across the Water?" By then he'd not only located it, but five others, including the eponymous "Elton John" from 1970, his second studio album.

For reference, that's the one that leads off with "Your Song," which, while it's been wildly overplayed, never seems to get tiresome. Maybe because it's a reminder of my best friend and her first love, who considered it their song.

One of the reasons I enjoy our basement record listening parties so much is that, without fail, we always look up what year the album came out. The point, of course, is to place the album in the context of our lives (or at least, the context of the memories of our lives). Like that time when Holmes put on British band Ace's "Five-A-Side" and the only too familiar strains of "How Long?" blared from his mega-speakers, my first question was, when?

1974, Holmes announced after picking up a magnifying glass from the pencil cup on the bar and zeroing in on the microscopic printing on the back of the album. Beloved and I looked at each other all grins, reminiscing that we were doing a lot of dancing in 1974.

But "Your Song" is from a 1970 album and I am practically positive that I never heard of Elton John or that song in 1970. "It didn't get played here until 1971," Holmes informs me, but I still can't believe I heard it that early.

Maybe I didn't discover it until after "Madman Across the Water" came out in 1971, because I definitely remember the instantly classic side one with "Tiny Dancer," "Levon," "Razorface" and "Madman Across the Water."

Twenty two minutes of pure piano pop perfection.

Holmes also had EJ's album "7-11-70," a live album that I'd never even known existed, despite it being his fifth album. We listened to some of "Tumbleweed Connection," which I learned was a concept album based on country and western themes.

To be honest, "Burn Down the Mission" was the only song I even recognized, while "Come Down in Time" had a similarly rapturous effect on Beloved as the lavash-crusted flounder had. She not only sang the words, but closed her eyes, the better to be transported back to 1970.

Beloved was most excited when she saw that he had a copy of the "Friends" soundtrack, a movie that had escaped my notice in 1971. She, on the other hand, recalled seeing it at the Capitol Theater, which was on Broad Street near the Science Museum, but since it was demolished long before I arrived here, I had no knowledge of it.

But that got me to thinking that, for the most part, I have no memory of where I saw most of the films in my life before ten years ago when they built Movieland two miles from my apartment. Yes, I know I saw "Flashdance" at the West End Theater on L Street in D.C. and I have clear memories of seeing "Jaws" at the Riverdale Theater, but not a lot beyond that.

And here Beloved was recalling not only where she saw "Friends" in 1971, but totally digging hearing the title song and the new-to-me "Honey Roll" again.

Well, I want to say that I'm your Mister Funky
Singing this song is taking up your time
I did the donkey, now I'm your funky monkey
Sing it, children, sing it on your mind

Our 1971 selves took control as she and I looked at each other and cracked up at the funky monkey part. I think it's gonna be a long, long time before I've made up for all the EJ I missed out on.

Bossy boyfriends be damned, you can deny a young woman her Elton John, but eventually any Mona Lisa or Mad Hatter worth her salt is going to listen to whatever she wants to.

Turning back, she just laughs.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Difference Between Absinthe and a Sunset

It was like a AAA page ripped from 2013 or 2015.

First was Amuse, where Mr. Wright and I were greeted by the blond Californian and directed to the bar. En route to be seated, a familiar server said hello as she passed with a tray of drinks. Outside, it was still light, if a bit gray.

Like so many nights of the past, it was no trouble at all to wile away several hours at the very end of Amuse's bar, while behind us tables went from set and ready to occupied and messy and the room's volume steadily went up.

But the bar was uncrowded enough that the bartender found time to read from her paperback book when she thought no one was looking. I'm always thrilled to see a millennial reading an actual book, but come on, aren't you supposed to be working?

Always with Spain in our sites, we sipped Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava while spooning up bites of winter squash bisque singing with fall spices and sorghum. Good as it was, it definitely tasted more like November than March, but then I always have my eye on the arrival of warmer days.

Needless to say, I'm overjoyed at the time change arriving this weekend and restoring some sense of hope for what's to come.

A salad of local greens with spicy cashews and apple slices was dressed with green goddess, a round of whipped Feta atop it all. Mussels and housemade bacon swam in a bowl of white wine and butter, heavy on the butter, with a piece of grilled bread for sopping. Truth be told, it should have arrived with at least two slices, because I'm a firm believer in the "let no broth go unsopped" philosophy.

After we finished eating, it was time to think about the second A, absinthe. I interrupted the bartender's reading to suggest that if she filled up the absinthe fountain with ice water now, it would be ready when I was. "Do you want one now?" she asked. Was I not clear? I assured her she'd be the first to know.

She solved the problem of having her reading interrupted again by pouring a glass of absinthe, laying the absinthe spoon across it and placing a sugar cube atop that and setting it in front of me. I was already seated adjacent to the absinthe fountain (appropriate, no?), so setting up my own drip only made sense.

That and years of practice.

My chocolate pate touched down before my absinthe drip was finished, so I went ahead and fell on that sword and began forking up bites of what tasted like chocolate butter. Decadently good.

Finally, the sugar cube was history. Taking a sip to welcome the green fairy took me back to all those times dating back to 2011 when I'd found myself sitting at Amuse doing the same.

Some pleasures are timeless and a nice meal before a drip will always be a satisfying way to wile away the evening, especially with such good company.

Eventually, bathed in the seductive glow of the green fairy, we made our way downstairs for the final A, art. I'd set my sights on seeing "Hollar's Encyclopedic Eye: Prints from the Frank Raysor Collection," a sizable show of 200 or so prints of the 2500 the artist made during his life.

Or, at least given the absinthe buzz, see part of it.

A distinct pleasure of the exhibit was using one of the handheld magnifying glasses available to really see the prints, which, whether engravings or etchings (one was both, the figure engraved, the background etched), are incredibly detailed. I learned what a compromise view was, neither bird's eye nor straight on.

And the range of subjects chosen for the show was startling, everything from close-ups of women's hat styles to insects to long views of people playing yard games in a town square. Hollar's ability to capture the texture of a brocade dress or the intricate curls on a royal's head came to life with the magnifying glass.

Then before we knew it, it was time for the museum to close, leaving Mr. Wright and me no choice but to abandon Hollar for greener pastures. And therein lies the difference between all those old times sipping absinthe at Amuse and now.

Oscar Wilde claimed that a glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. Anything? I'll have to disagree.

The green fairy knows that when you're finally in the right pasture, there's are several things more poetical. Greener is good.