Monday, July 29, 2019

The Bean Queen

Any day that begins with walking to cliffs overlooking the water is bound to be a good one.

We went for the views at the insistence of our landlady, but there wound up being so much more to absorb than just beauty. The location has historical significance, as well as a natural one - lots of obscure sea bird life, an important migratory stopover - as was explained on a Spanish/English sign clarifying that it's a national protected site.

And although it's technically the bay, there was sufficient waves-crashing-against-rocks churning up the blue water into halos of turquoise green that I could think of it as the sea.

When we hit the road, it was to Luarca, which warned incoming traffic that we were entering an "Urban Zone." Cute, but when it came right down to it,  Luarca was a picture postcard of a colorful, quaint fishing port (right down to boats in primary colors)  that drew vacationers in droves.

There was an open air market spanning several streets and offering such varied goods as local hams and running shoes, with almost everything - children's books, CDs from around the world, clothing, herbs, fruits and vegetables - you can imagine needing laid out on tables or hung from canopies. Bras of many colors, but also farm-raised beef and homemade sausage.

I'd chosen Luarca for el Barometro, with a view of the marina and houses built into the side of a cliff, because I'd read it was a long-time, family-owned seafood restaurant that never disappointed. Embedded into the exterior was a large old wooden barometer my Dad would have loved and three harpoons hung on the wall. Inside the front door was a poster showing photographs from a February 2014 storm that clearly delivered a fierce pummeling to Luarca's shores.

Tables were close together, probably to accommodate the frequent full houses, and if you said yes to your server's inquiry of "Pan?" (and who would say no to crusty bread?) it was laid directly on the tablecloth.

Because in the Principality of Asturias, they don't need no stinkin' bread plate.

Tempted as I was by the menu's abundant seafood offerings in this port town, as soon as I saw Asturian White Bean Stew my fate was sealed - as was the fate of that enormous piece of bread next to my hand - without knowing anything more than that beans were involved.

Never mind that it sounded like something you'd want on a cold January night, I was in Asturia in July. Carpe diem and all.

Not only was it a dish meant for colder months, it arrived in an enormous bowl full of huge white beans in a rich, garlicky broth and four kinds of pig: pork shoulder, pork belly, Chorizo and blood sausage.

Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but there's a menu gamble that paid off.

Afterwards, we strolled the market before heading to the beaches which were dotted with plenty of people but very few umbrellas. What they did have was lines of tiny, brightly painted changing cabanas that people seemed to be using for myriad purposes besides changing. The civilized people had brought folding tables and chairs, allowing groups to be sitting at a table, bottles of wine lining the center and food everywhere, laughing and talking while the young 'uns played in the shallow water below.

After walking to the point, we descended the stairs to the water so I could add the Bay of Biscay to the bodies of water I have waded through. I was surprised, though, because the fine sand of the shoreline was mixed with small rocks and pebbles I didn't expect. With its brilliant greenish blue clarity, the bay looked more like a swimming pool, as children splashed in the shallow water and adults ventured out deeper to escape their shrieks and splashing.

It was wonderful in every possible way, and not just because of how refreshing it is to see women obviously older than me wearing two piece bathing suits without looking the least bit self-conscious about it. That said, it's been obvious everywhere we've been that Spanish women, like their French counterparts, continue to make an effort to be stylish until they're dead. Never have I seen so many trim, well-dressed septuagenarians and octogenarians in heels and cute outfits.

Or bikins.

Eventually, we left the beach for the drive to Gijon, which is what passes for a major city in Asturia. Driving to our hotel, it definitely felt like we were in a thriving city, but then boom! you hit the beaches (a string of them, really, like a necklace of adjoining crescents) and it felt like a full-on beach town.

Which means you can be walking through the stylish urban neighborhood en route to a wine gastropub and pass girls in their bathing suits and boys draped in towels sauntering by you. Young people everywhere you look, but probably just as many older couples, her hand tucked into the crook of his arm. And noisy motorbikes ripping up and down the street that fronts the beach, the backfiring and racing sounds an open invitation to gawk at them (which only became tedious after 2 a.m.).

Everything, it seems, is fair game in Gijon.

Because we were in a bigger city, there were far more restaurants catering to a non-European palate, so after the wine bar, we nosed around until we found a place that looked like it hadn't changed since the '70s or '80s. There were multiple signs and menus in the front window and not one of them condescended to using English.


We found a table near the front window with a prime view down a narrow street to the water and settled in for another Asturian experience accompanied by the ever-present Albarino. I'm going to look foolish here, but I went right ahead and ordered Asturian white beans with clams, this time knowing exactly what to expect.

Repeat deliciousness minus the pig.

Several families with young children came in between 9 and 9:30 for dinner, adding to the liveliness of the place since all the servers seemed to know them and exuberant conversations followed as plates of food were ferried to and from the kitchen and around the boisterous groups. Clearly this was a neighborhood joint.

After breakfast the next morning, we took a walk along the beaches and in one area, through meandering tidal pools with water nearly two feet deep. This is what some of us call giving good beach.

Although it wasn't yet 11, there was a steady stream of morning people out on the sand. Several older men were already in the water swimming laps to the markers while walkers were getting in their steps. A few people were stretched out as if sun bathing, although it seemed a tad early for that. A line of colorful, patterned umbrellas stood in a row, leaning against a wall waiting for the call to serve.

And one mesmerizing older guy in orange swim trunks with a thick gold chain around his neck and ear buds in couldn't stop swiveling his hips Elvis-style as he listened to whatever music was causing his groove thing to endlessly shake.

It was an invitation, no doubt about it, and all he needed was the right taker. I'm thinking a senior from New Jersey would have eaten him up with a spoon.

Once I'd had my beach walk, we motored to Llanes, with its medieval tower and crumbling town wall from 1206, but it will stay in my memory for the scorpionfish cakes I had for lunch at Chigre el Antoju Sidreria.

Anticipating being served something related to crabcakes, I was thrilled to instead take possession of two orange rectangles that had far more in common with a seafood terrine than anything cake-like. Meanwhile, on the other side of the platter, a towering mound of small toasted and oiled bread squares awaited their opportunity to be the vehicle on which I could spread the terrine scorpionfish cakes.

So, what have I learned so far in Asturia? Verdant cliffs edge beaches of fine brown sand around here. You don't have to know what you're ordering to wind up eating well in these parts. And with six glasses of Albarino costing about 13 euros, they want you to drink wine like water.

Most importantly, say si to pan every time. You can ask questions later.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Lost in Translation

Espana is full of surprises.

About the last thing we expected to hear when the Hertz agent looked at our passports was, "Oh, Virginia is for lovers, eh?"

Seems this young Spaniard had a Virginia girlfriend for a while and could rattle off Virginia places like Roanoke and Richmond, only with a far better accent. As we were leaving with the keys to a Volvo, I inquired if he still had his Virginia sweetie.

"No, she moved to Phoenix," he said as if that were that.

With wheels, we could bid farewell to Santiago and head for the North Coast beaches for a while. And while life may not be a beach, I could make a case for beach life being best.

En route, we stopped in Rinlo - a one cathedral town, if you know what I 'm saying - a tiny village with narrow streets and a highly recommended restaurant for lunch. Scallops in garlic brown butter were served in scalloped shells, the ideal place for the brown butter to pool and from which to sop it with the crusty bread that has become de rigueur at every meal (at breakfast I slather it with jam).

After a walk through the tiny town and along the sea wall to a view of the sea, we hit the road to Ortiguiero, near Porcia where we were overnighting. Everything worked according to plan until it didn't. The GPS deposited us near a dirt road (part of the Camino trail) but the tiny hotel with a view of the sea was nowhere to be found.

With a can-do attitude and an extremely limited Spanish vocabulary, I hoofed it down a dirt driveway to a patio where three women were enjoying the beautiful day. After trying to explain our destination, I pulled out the email confirmation from Tesera, our home for the night. Her response was to lead me to a side porch, indicate that I should lean waaay over and point across a valley to a verdant hill.

Apparently our hotel was there.

But rather than trust us to find it alone, this sweet Spanish woman who spoke not a word of English marched to her car and indicated that we should follow her to our final resting place. Along the way, she stopped not one but three times to ask of strangers where the hell Tesera Apartmentos were until finally a neighbor pointed beyond her hedge.

Hallelujah and pass the Albarino, we are in Porcia, home at last.

Running the Tesera was a woman with nine broken bones in her back (or so she told us) and a fondness for conversation with strangers. Once she'd led us to our apartment (complete with kitchen and magnificent view of the water), she spent 20 minutes regaling us with the nearby eating options.

As soon as she mentioned a place just down the hill and on the water - "a cabana, no?" uh, no - we were sold. Bar Menos Mal was part hilly picnic area, part ramshackle restaurant and part exquisite water views complete with paddle boarders, setting sun and tree-covered cliffs. We scored a bench and low table next to a young Spaniard drinking a beer while he awaited a friend's arrival to enjoy it all until dinner service began a couple hours later.

All the servers clearly loved where they worked and both a neon sign and their t-shirts - "Life is better in Porcia" - said it all. Had the shirts been for sale, we'd have bought them on the spot. "Maybe in the future," the young bartender promised.

Not likely we'll be back this way, but good to know.

Jamon tostada - ham over pureed tomato on toasted, oiled bread - kicked things off until an enormous pan of paella arrived studded with the bounty of the sea. With every langoustino I crack open, I seem to break a nail or two, but it's a price I'm more than willing to pay. Happily, mussels, clams, cockles, fish and the like don't make me work for my food.

Not that I'm complaining.

The place was understandably wildly popular and people kept coming but only certain locations rated service. For us, it had been nothing more that dumb luck to have happened onto a table that did since every possible reservation for the 8:30 and 10 p.m. seatings had long since been spoken for when we'd arrived.

Many glasses of Albarino later, we stumbled back up the hill to Tesera's Apartmentos, far easier to find in the dark than in broad daylight apparently.

I guess it takes a lot of wine to see clearly in Porcia. Maybe that's why life is better here.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Pilrims' Progress

Santiago is my kind of town and I'm finding out all the reasons why with each day that passes.

And that's despite it being the end point for religious pilgrims for thousands of years, which a heathen like me couldn't care less about. I would guess that most of the hundreds of pilgrims we've seen showing up in the square in bright, matching t-shirts, walking sticks in hand, did not walk all those kilometers to be cured by the remains of St. James buried here as pilgrims once did.

All I know is, they make it to the square after walking or cycling, collapse in the square and then find a place to sing group songs while quaffing beer and eating everything in sight. Most of them remove their shoes and not a few begin picking at scabs and blisters on their feet, looking grateful to be off their barking dogs.

Speaking of, part of the appeal to this beautiful place is hoofing around it.

Lots of walking this hilly, holy city means that I don't need to start my day with a walk because it's built into everything we do. Like visiting Santiago Cathedral - currently under renovation, which is actually pretty cool to see - the Galician Contemporary Art Museum (very ICA-like with no permanent collection but some fascinating art tied to asylum/refugees/immigration), untold convents, monasteries and plazas (Plaza de Cervantes being a particular favorite).

But woman can not live by pilgrimages and art alone.

Santiago is known for its octopus and you can't swing a dead cat (side note: we saw a man riding a bike with a cat in the basket, its paws on the front of the basket as if it were following the master's route as he pedaled) without hitting a restaurant/bar with a window full of octopus (and often, other assorted live sea creatures).

The preferred Galician preparation is octopus a la gallega - after beating and cooking, coins of local octopus tentacles get a bath of olive oil, coarse sea salt and sweet and spicy paprika, only to be served on a wooden plate - that is so tender and delicious we can't be the only people who could eat it daily.

Needless to say, sopping up the flavored oil with the fabulous Spanish crusty bread only adds to the appeal.

Without even meaning to, we returned to Abastos 2.0, site of our fabulous first night dinner, the very next day for lunch. It's not that we were moonshine-addled idiots who couldn't recall where they'd been 12 hours earlier, but that we'd been unaware then that the restaurant also had an outdoor outpost just across the street.

It wasn't until we found stools at a counter built for two (not an easy accomplishment at 2:00 when hordes of hungry locals and tourists are looking for a lunch spot) that our French waiter (who also spoke Spanish, Galician, Italian and some English) solved the mystery of where we'd landed.

Knowing that meant we didn't need to look at any stinkin' menu.

So from there, we put ourselves in his more than capable hands, requesting no more than a bottle of Albarino and whatever he thought we needed to taste. With a shaded perch and the hustle and bustle of the Saturday market just around the corner, we sat back and ignored the madding crowds while he kept us fed.

First up were oysters from the north Atlantic, significant not just because they were briny enough for my taste, but because the man who'd sworn off eating oysters 20 years ago after a bad experience joined me in slurping bivalves.

Relationship milestone right there.

Next came Sea Bream ceviche tasting like it was not long out of the water and dressed so lightly as not to change that. Scored sections of pickled mackerel met crusty bread for what is undoubtedly a frequent meal in seaport towns, hearty and flavorful.

As much a fan of seafood as I am, I had never had langoustinos in the shell, so picking the lobster-like meat (albeit in much smaller amounts)  from the tiny, spiny shells added to the pleasure of eating the sweet meat. A couple at a nearby table watched us for tips on how to do it before being brave enough to attack their own.

And just like the night before, when we wanted  a sweet ending to a stellar lmeal, our affable server came back with cannolis, the only echo of the night before beyond the incredibly high quality of every bite we put in our eager mouths.

But we're not just mouths, constantly feeding, either.

Like in Madrid, street music is everywhere, but the unlikeliest of all is bagpipes. Except for after dinner, which means after 11 or midnight, we've yet to walk through a long arch near the Cathedral without passing by a bagpiper or two taking advantage of the acoustics in the tunnel-like space and blowing their hearts out. A big music stage in one of the plazas has a band almost every night and crowds of all ages gather to listen under the stars.

The walk to the Contemporary Art Museum  also took us to a former convent's grounds and gardens where flowers I didn't recognize bloomed, a stone aqueduct and fountain attested to the centuries they'd carried water and we had a sublime view of Santiago from above.

I could finish by saying "wish you were here" except I've got everything I need already here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Fake Cake and Mad Moonshine

It's not like I wasn't warned.

Standing at the baggage kiosk at Madrid airport, an Iberia  rep approached me, asking where I was headed. When I told her Santiago de Compostela, her face lit up.

"You are going to have so much fun there!" she said with great enthusiasm. "And it'll be so much cooler there than here because of the mountains. And the food! Wait till you eat some of their octopus...or any of the seafood. Believe me, you will love Santiago."

With an endorsement like that and a flight of just an hour, how could I lose?

Arriving at the Hotel San Francisco - incidentally a former convent - to meet my partner-in-travel, I was immediately struck by the coolness after three days of hot, hot, hot in Madrid. One of the many benefits of making my home in a convent for the next few days are our bedroom's beautiful long windows that look out over a grass courtyard flanked by the three sides of the convent/hotel and a pool house.

Let's put it this way, a girl could get used to this in July and that's not even counting the way it stays light until an hour before midnight. Seeing the magnificent architecture of the Cathedral de Santiago against a clear blue sky at 10:00 p.m. is breathtakingly unexpected.

Where I began to see what Miss Iberia was talking about happened after the cocktail reception on the hotel's grassy terrace. A short walk took us to Abastos 2.0, a seemingly simple little restaurant with a Michelin logo out front, conveniently located across from the market - an extensive series of meat, seafood, cheese, flower and fruit/vegetable stalls in several long halls - which is also the source of everything they serve.

The 20 of us sat down around a large table with a carved wooden head of lettuce and (inexplicably) a carved wooden shoe on either side of a colorful flower arrangement. The only drink options were red or white and this being the Galicia region, choosing white means Albarino every time.

No complaints here.

Next to each place setting was a pop-top can lid which was meant to serve as a bread plate for the crusty slices that our servers kept us supplied with all evening.

From then on, this tiny restaurant proceeded to dazzle us with course after course displaying the bounty of the Iberian peninsula. First up was creamy gazpacho with sweet-tasting cockles floating on top. I licked the bowl clean. That was followed by marinated mushrooms, although the Australians claimed that they were pickled (they weren't) in a tomato-based sauce. Like the cockles, the mussels tasted like they were right out of the water.

Given the size of the table, it was tough to chat with everyone. One of the funniest members of the group was also one of the most multi-talented. Besides having been a Buddhist monk for years before rejoining the secular world, he's currently a bike tour guide and big wave surfer. But he's also a good gay boy, having seen Leonard Cohen (RIP) three times, albeit always with his Mom.

When he starts singing "Hallelujah," he expects the group to chime in and pouts when they won't. Hilarious.

His ability to break into song, dance or impersonation at the drop of a hat made him invaluable to the party vibe, even if some of the more macho types (the Costa Rican, the Australian) didn't like how touchy he was.

Get over it, guys, no chance you're his type.

Up next was tuna tartare with an avocado cream that wowed even those who'd never had tartare before, although I have to wonder where these people have been eating. Luckily, after three courses, everyone was sufficiently lubricated to banter about such things. The French Canadian couple, curious about my food reviewing, were especially eager to know about whether or not there was anything I don't eat.

Um, crappy food by choice?

Our fish course was another cousin of cod over braised greens, the meat white and delicately flavorful, the skin crisped and tasting of herbs. Just when the Tazmanian lamb rancher was convinced that there would never be a meat course, plates resplendent with slices of rosy veal  and bronze-skinned fingerlings arrived to soothe the savage beast.

You'd have thought this group was bloodthirsty from their reaction to red meat, but more likely the seafood focus in Santiago was just wearing on some of them. Not so this bounty-of-the-sea fan who could eat seafood and fish for weeks without complaint.

While everyone was admiring a photograph of a drunk Brazilian woman jumping off a bridge naked (something they had all witnessed before my arrival), a palate cleanser of Asian pear wedges arrived to prepare us for dessert. Everyone was surprised when one of the chefs arrived with a birthday cake ablaze in candles, intended for the rancher's wife whose birthday today was.

After she made a wish and blew out the candles, the cake was whisked away and cannolis arrived. Some of us assumed birthday cake slices were to follow but, alas, the cake had been plastic (one of the guys had poked it, unbeknownst to those of us at the other end of the table), a mere symbol to acknowledge her big day.

Once we'd eaten all the things, we were invited out onto the terrace for after-dinner drinks, all of them variations on Galician moonshine with herbs. There was a variety made with coffee for those who wanted to speedball, another made with cream that was very popular with this crowd and the straight ahead version, which was a deep yellow, smelled like a first cousin to moonshine and singed the nose hairs of anyone brave enough to try it.

That would be me, although, I added plenty of ice and drank small sips slowly. And although I didn't finish mine, the rancher had not one but two glasses, which surely factored into him getting lost walking home. His wife, the birthday girl, found him near the town square later, sitting on a stone bench and looking dazed.

We got back to the convent just in time for fireworks over the plaza. Not a bad way to begin my stay in Santiago, not that I had a single thing to do with the planning of any of it.

All I'm saying is, Miss Iberia sure knew what she was talking about. I can take all of this Santiago can dish out.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Moon River in Madrid

The spirit was willing but the dogs were barking.

After sleeping eleven hours and only eating twice yesterday, I awoke ravenous. The hotel restaurant breakfast buffet took a beating as I moved through filling two plates and a bowl before finding a table where I could chow down while plotting my route for the day.

Warm from the fryer churros tasted like the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth and that was after two bowls of cereal, a heaping plate of dates, pineapple and watermelon, three pieces of crusty bread toasted and slathered with strawberry jam and ham.

Because this is a place where ham shows up at every meal.

En route to the Prado Museum, I passed a store called Joyeria (which kind of described how I felt), a man in a Washington Capitals t-shirt and, like last evening, another man in a paper mache head, which is apparently a thing here.

I knew from a recent New York Times article that I wasn't going to get to see the actual Prado building because it's being renovated, but the upside to that is that during the renovations, the entire building is wrapped in fabric which is printed with details of some of the 3,000 canvases inside, so it's sort of a temporary, gift-wrapped building that will be unveiled in November as part of the 1619-2019 museum celebration.

You know, I'm okay with only getting to see this one-time look on the Prado.

Because the paintings aren't arranged chronologically - or even all of one artist's work in adjacent galleries - it was interesting to navigate the museum. I used the directionally-challenged method, wandering from gallery to gallery with only a few attempts to find certain ones because of the artists in it.

While wandering, I came across Eduardo Rosales' "After the Bath" - considered the finest nude in 19th century Spanish painting - which could have passed for an Impressionistic work with its sketch-like qualities and masterful use of light. That it was executed in a single day was nothing short of amazing.

Another aimless find was an entire gallery of still life paintings, hung salon style like I like so much. Many were of intricate flower arrangements, but my favorite was Cerezo's "Kitchen Still Life," a scene filled with meal fixins: a freshly killed lamb, a calf's head, strung up game birds, round loaves of crusty bread, peppers, copper pots and a carafe of wine.

Turns out, of all the unlikely things, that the Prado has the most extensive collection of Peter Paul Rubens in the world because he was such a favorite of King Philip IV. So much flesh. Truly, there's nothing like seeing all those Rubenesque women to make a person feel good about having eaten like a field hand at breakfast.

Who am I kidding? Any meal for that matter.

Seriously, though, seeing a major work like Rubens' "The Three Graces," a staple from my college art history classes, was mind-blowing. Ditto the two oil on slate works by Titian (slate?), hung inside a glass box so viewers could see both sides.

Still, the Prado's collection is enough to overwhelm even the biggest art lover, not to mention tourists who are mainly there simply because a guidebook told them to. I overheard one glazed-over sounding woman tell her husband, "There's some huge ones in here," as a justification for entering yet another gallery despite sounding tired and bored.

Lady G and Mac will appreciate this: I got to see even more Tintorettos today to add to what we saw at the National Gallery last month. Significantly, there was "The Washing of the Feet," a huge work that was painted for the choir of the Venetian church San Marcuola with a dog at its center and Jesus way over in the right corner.

Looking at in the enormous Prado hall, the perspective was weird, but viewed from the far right side, I could see Tintoretto's foreshortening brilliance given the intended placement of the canvas. There were also various portraits he'd done, one of a senator and another of a general, the latter holding a baton which extended out of the picture plane into the viewer's space.

That's Tintoretto demonstrating his mastery of depicting three dimensions. Like he does.

Most surprising about Velazquez' "Las Meninas" - considered the jewel in the Prado's  crown  and justifiably since it's often referred to as the finest painting in the world - was how few people were in front of it when I got to that gallery. It was a pleasure to ogle it for as long - as I wanted.

And may I just say how satisfying it was that picture-taking wasn't allowed. If you ask me, some museums should take a page from the Prado's book .

This blog post isn't going to be long enough to mention even a fraction of what I saw today so what matters is that I got to see Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," Albrecht Durer's "Self Portrait" and Goya's "Nude Maja," among so many others.

After nearly four hours, I abandoned art for food, making it only as far as the Prado Cafe for a jamon (I told you, every meal) panini with cheese, spinach and egg, patatas bravas and a chocolate cookie for dessert. Just while eating my simple lunch, I overheard people chatting in at least five languages, including a British woman noting that, "Getting married again at this age is a lot more work than I thought."

When I left the Prado, I made my way around the building to admire the draping on all sides before strolling past the Royal Botanical Garden which I wanted to visit but not in the heat of the afternoon.

My next stop was just a look-see at the Atocha train station- designed in 1892 by an architect named Ellisagne in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel (you know the one) - inside and out. The elaborate 19th century brick facade is topped by a half moon of steel and glass that gives it a lacy look from the exterior and an open, light-filled (and plant-filled) look inside.

Let's just say it's light years beyond our American train stations, even the better ones.

Ready for some contemporary art after so much classical work, I walked toward the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, passing musicians on nearly every block and corner: a man playing classical guitar,  a violinist and guitarist playing "Moon River" and several accordionists.

Fascinating to me was that the bike lane was the center lane of a road with two car lanes on either side. I marveled at the brave cyclists willing to pedal between all those speeding cars.

The Sofia's building was originally a hospital and reminded me immediately of D.C.'s Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum because it was a four-sided building with an interior, albeit outdoor, courtyard. Its most striking feature was two glass elevator towers flanking the entrance and giving me a reason not to take the stairs.

Of course I was there for the ultimate art history nerd viewing: Picasso's "Guernica," definitely the holy grail of Picasso's enormous output. Situated in a large gallery, there was appropriately sad music playing, though it was frequently punctuated by one of the guards yelling at people trying to take a picture of it.

No book or slide can prepare you to see "Guernica" in real life, its stark black and white palette adding to the horrific images of a town being bombed. Given the work's importance, both artistically and historically, I was surprised at how quickly people left after laying eyes on it. There was so much to take in.

Adjacent galleries housed related work, such as Dora Marr's photographs of the evolution of the enormous painting and smaller studies done for it. As disturbing as the pieta in "Guernica" is, the study for "Mother with Dead Child" may be even more so for its up-close focus on the scene.

When I finally finished absorbing what I doubt I'll ever see again, I moved on to some of the other galleries. I found Picasso's "Femme au Jardin," a slightly larger than life-size bronze from 1930-32, absolutely captivating with its suggestion of a woman and flowers taller than me. Works by Miro and Calder were inside as well as outside in the courtyard.

This trip will be remembered as the one where I saw another side of Dali that I fell hard for. His "Portrait" from 1925 shows the back of a woman sitting in a heavy wooden chair on a rooftop, her braided hair contrasting with her back. That;s it, no skulls or clocks melting, just a portrait..

It was like no Dali I'd ever seen.

But where I became an uber-fan was with his 1925 "Girl at the Window," an evocative scene of another back, but this time the entire woman. A woman in a blue-striped gray dress is looking out a green-blue framed window with striped blue curtains to a view of water, with a small boat in the distance.

The whole scene was so inviting and believable you could almost smell the water and feel the breeze stirring. I had to know more, so I found signage to help me. Seems Dali is considered the Spanish artist who combined new classicism, modern realism and surrealism (the only part of him I'd known previously) to create what was labeled Arte Nuevo.

By the time I took the glass elevator down, my feet were screaming but I wasn't ready to give up on art entirely.

Instead, I found a shaded bench in the Sofia's courtyard to sit back and admire a huge Calder mobile turning in the late afternoon breeze and a familiar Miro sculpture in black marble. A nearby fountain provided soothing sounds, although there were only a couple of other people outside, making it wonderfully private and peaceful.

And speaking of fountains, walking home I passed one near the Botanical Garden, only to spot three small squirt guns laying on the fountain's lip. I imagine some kid is going to feel like he hit the jackpot when she or he happens to find them.

Kind of like how I hit the art jackpot today. It'll take a while - and multiple conversations with fellow art nerds once I'm home - to fully absorb all the major artwork I got to see today. As G would say, I'm a lucky girl.

I'll just say that it was a joyeria kind of a day and leave it at that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Buenos Dias, Madrid

It takes a lot to get me up for a sunrise, but flying to Madrid will do it.

Watching the brilliant red ball inch its way up over the curve of the earth while my body thought it was more like midnight was just the start of trying to put myself on Spanish time. My cab ride from the airport to the hotel was notable for two things: I believe it's the first manual transmission taxi I've ever ridden in and the driver and I exchanged not a word beyond confirming the price of the ride.

Partly, it was a language thing and partly, my mind was mostly shut down since it was under the mistaken impression that it was nearly 2 a.m. (which it was in Richmond). In any case, a quiet ride gave me the time to do my initial gawking at Spain on the drive into city center, marveling that we came in on Calle de O'Donnell - incidentally my mother's maiden name - which I found awfully Irish sounding for these parts.

I felt like my official introduction to the city was seeing the big Plaza de la Independencia, with its central neo-classical triumphal arch - actually five arches leading into the city - with an assortment of soldierly sculptures lounging atop it. A statement piece about arriving in Madrid, for sure.

My driver deposited me and my luggage at Hotel Liabeny with a minimal farewell and someone immediately slid into the back seat I'd just vacated, which had to still be warm.

Determined to re-orient myself to Spanish time, I took a quick nap (after only two hours sleep on the plane, I think a 3 hour nap qualifies as quick, don't you?) before heading out into blinding sunlight bouncing off white and light-colored buildings. My goal was to soak up some neighborhood color and eat, well, lunch technically (it was after 2), but as far as my belly was concerned, breakfast.

It had been waaay too long since my last meal.

Without the energy to do my usual 4 mile walk today, I instead decided to use the hotel staircase, not only because of the six flights of stairs but to check them out architecturally given the hotel's age and pedigree. Made of white marble, carpeted in the center and with shiny brass handrails and leaded, stained glass windows in a "modern" early 20th century style (not to mention a "Vertigo"-worthy view when you look up or down at how they corkscrew), they were worth a look.

Taking Rick Steves' recommendation for a good lunch, I headed to the bar at Restaurante Europa, one of only four people balancing on the backless stools to eat at that hour when any decent Spaniard would be siesta-ing.

Twice, I was asked if I wouldn't rather sit in the dining room, but Rick's assurance that the "fun, high-energy scene with a mile long bar, old school waiters, local cuisine and a fine prix fixe lunch menu" - yes, one of the courses is a choice of wine or cerveza - had sold me on a stool meal.

Besides, it was only from a bar stool that I could see the enormous ham behind the bar, draped with a cotton towel, which was removed every few minutes when a server needed to cut paper thin slices from it and arrange them on a plate, in a pattern like petals on a flower.

My first choice was gazpacho which arrived as a creamy, orange chilled soup. The bowl had barely hit the bar when a server eager to show off his English was at my elbow offering me guarniciones. His tray held bowls of chopped cilantro, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and bread and he wanted to know which I'd like scooped into my gazpacho.

Constitutionally unable to eat something as unripe and nasty tasting as a green pepper, I opted for onion, tomatoes and cucumbers with a soupcon of cilantro, eschewing the bread bits only because of the stellar crusty roll I was already dipping in nutty olive oil.

My main course, enjoyed with a glass of local white wine, was Bacalao (that's cod to you) in salsa verde with potatoes. It's not that the generous piece of fish wasn't perfectly cooked, but my idea of salsa verde doesn't involve a white sauce with green peas in it, though it was tasty enough, just new to me.

What was challenging was convincing my stomach that it wanted all that food at what it still thought was breakfast time. Trust me, we'll get the hang of this soon.

Not long after I finished eating, I was being offered dessert and tea or coffee, but feeling my energy waning after a hearty meal, I thought it best to do some walking to further assure my body we weren't in Kansas anymore. Every calle I walked down meant another piece of monumental sculpture or an elaborately decorated building facade, always with church spires pointing skyward in the near distance.

The sun had shifted behind the buildings when I went out later, making it far more pleasant to stroll the wide pedestrian streets (with an occasional cop car) without sweltering. People watching in Madrid had already proven to be an eyeful, none more unexpected than a guy in a Municipal Waste t-shirt.

I gotta say, it did my heart good to see a Richmond band on a stranger's chest.

And speaking of strangers, I always get a kick out of being some place where there's almost no chance of running into someone I know, or even recognize.

Turning off one wide calle onto another, I stopped in my tracks when I heard music. It turned out to be a quintet - two violinists, two singers and a conductor in an enormous paper mache head (probably a politician but not one I recognized) - performing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." Using a small speaker to project the other instruments, the enormous sound of live and recorded music bolstered by live hallelujah vocals bounced off the surrounding buildings and up into the sky.

It was a remarkable thing to witness, even if most tourists were watching it through their phone ratehr than simply taking it in fully.

El Corte Ingles, a multi-floor store that was part department store, part ABC store, part Starbuck's and part grocery store, I couldn't help but smile walking in when I heard Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy" belting out of the sound system as people shopped.

Over near the fruit and seafood sections, I spotted another Richmond connection: a big display of Duke's mayonnaise with a sign reading, "Probablemente la mejor mayonesa del mundo."

Now, I may still be brushing up on my Spanish (I did manage to ask for the check in Spanish at lunch, a proud moment considering my brain was flat-lining), but I'm pretty sure that display was telling the Spaniards that Duke's is the best mayo in the world.

Although surely the guy in the Municipal Waste t-shirt already knew that.

Walking home, I scored an empanada de pollo and side of fruit, took them to a bench near some trees and ate it all, trying to convince my stomach that it counted as dinner because, with every step I took, I knew I was that much closer to an epic night of sleep. All I needed to do was see the sun set to bookend my first day in Espana and I was good to go.

Good and ready to spend my first night in Madrid anyway. Te veo manana.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Flying the Friendly Skies

I did not come from a traveling family.

Granted, part of it was undoubtedly the sheer numbers - six daughters plus Mom and Dad - so cost and difficulty must have factored in. That and Mom had absolutely no curiosity about unknown places beyond wanting her ashes scattered over County Cork from whence her grandparents came.

For my family, travel meant two weeks in the Outer Banks each summer and honestly, I was grateful for that. One summer stands out because we broke rank and instead of heading south, drove to Portland, Maine and took a ferry across Casco Bay to Peak's Island, where we spent a month eating lobster, wandering the island and dipping our toes in the frigid water, despite it being July.

When I turned 21, I did what any travel-deprived young woman did in those days: marched myself into an American Express Travel office, sat down and asked for help planning my first trip. I'd talked a slightly younger girlfriend into joining me but she left all the decisions to me.

My burgeoning wanderlust was limited somewhat by my budget but I gave the agent a starting point: I wanted to go somewhere not touristy, preferably where the primary language was not English. Her suggestion was Guadeloupe - with a caveat that we should learn some French and that their tourism industry was in its infancy - a place I knew nothing about, which made it a perfect destination.

That my friend's mother was a native born Frenchwoman seemed like a good omen, although as it turned out, I spoke and read far better French than my friend did, even if it was schoolbook French.

Despite never having flown or so much as traveled without my parents, I don't recall any hiccups getting to the Caribbean island or navigating once there. My girlfriend, however, had several complaints starting with the food, much of it new to us. While I happily ate my first conch fritters and some whole fish we'd never heard of, she declined, planning to order a ham and cheese baguette once we got back to the hotel.

For the record, she ate one of those nearly every day we were there. Le sigh. She also experienced major homesickness which made me sorry I'd asked her in the first place. Lesson number one: choose your travel companions carefully.

During the time we were there, we went on day trips in rickety buses to see the island, learned to snorkel, took a sunset cruise in a questionable boat and went to a market where I bought locally-made bowls and a large handled basket, all of which I continue to use today. And while I still have the brown t-shirt I bought to remember the Hotel Meridien (though it's now faded to ghost lettering), an online search reveals that it's long-since been knocked down and turned into a resort.

So I guess tourism did finally arrive full-blown in Guadeloupe.

Tellingly, that vacation to a strange place with new foods and never-before seen sights lit something in me that's only grown with time. First it was other tropical places - Aruba, the Bahamas - and eventually other continents. Though I've only traveled alone a few times - Dallas, New Orleans, California, one of my two weeks in Italy - my solo flight to Dubrovnik last fall to meet up with my main squeeze reminded me of the pleasures of the unknown, even when it's just for the length of a flight.

So here I go again after multiple trips to the nearby AAA Travel for adapters and a phrase book, packing and repacking my dresses and dealing with usual Dulles madness. Only this time, I'm flying past a full moon to my next adventure as a stranger in a strange land, at least for a few days.

After that, you can be sure that lesson number one goes into effect. In travel, as in love and life, choosing the best possible companion is everything.

My 21-year old self had no idea how much she had to look forward to.

There She Goes

Sometimes all a girl needs is a valise stocked with vino and a willing partner-in-crime.

Pru had packed hers with a bottle of Moet et Chandon Brut Reserve and a bottle of Sancerre, ensuring that the evening would be a delightful one despite the face-melting heat. After her usual complaints about the heat in my apartment and insufficient tables lamps in my bedroom (I never measure up in lamp wattage), we popped the cork on the Moet and retreated to the bedroom because it's the coolest room (north-facing) and boasts three fans, all angled in her direction.

As I transferred the contents of my 20' into her 24' and the Pet Shop Boys' "Discography" played, we bantered about over-sized bras (into the trash it went), cute sandals (she's a fan of the ankle-tie green ones) and my new bathing suit (already a proven compliment-getter), until everything had a new, more spacious home and the bottle had achieved dead soldier status.

Business part of the evening complete.

That was our signal to head out into the humidity for food, which is how we landed at Max's, smack in the middle of the bar. As soon as she felt the air conditioning, she spread her arms and announced, "I may never leave here" while my focus was on the menu.

Since Max's went more casual, I'm a fan of the more bistro-like menu and felt sure she'd like it, too. After scoring a couple of splits of Cremant de Bourgogne (Pru: "I could drink this all night long"), I decided on the roasted cauliflower with a side vegetable medley, while she wanted the soup du jour, a lobster bisque, and the Little Gem lettuce salad.

We were savoring our Cremant and looking at pictures of the beach house she's rented when the bartender returned, looking apologetic. "We ran out of cauliflower. I'm sorry, but did you want to choose something else?" So we paused ogling the myriad ocean views of her rental house and I returned to the menu. "It's half price oyster night," he suggested helpfully.

Never one to turn down a briny bivalve, I asked about the oysters' salinity, which he didn't know, so another trip to the kitchen was in order. Verdict? Mid-level, somewhere between buttery and the salt bombs I love. Okay, give me a dozen.

Moments later he returned to inform me that cauliflower was back in the house and did I still want the oysters. I did not, since they were a compromise anyway. That finished, we returned to our bubbles and beach planning until the food appeared.

Having had the cauliflower before, I'm a big fan of its nutty roasted taste smothered in French onion ricotta with pickled red onion for kick. My medley was a rich mixture of carrots, peas and mushrooms in an herbed oil. Pru's bisque was nothing short of pale coral obscenity, while her salad was essentially a gussied-up wedge with much better ingredients: tons of creamy bleu cheese, loads of bacon, tomatoes, cucumber, pickled onion and a generous dressing of ranch "du Provence."

That's what I'm talking about when I say it's nice to have a French bistro a few blocks from home. Well, that and Pru's unexpected comments like, "Sometimes you just gotta speedball."

When I asked about using the loo, the bartender offered to escort us there due to its proximity to the kitchen. "Coming through!" he bellowed as we were lead past the kitchen staff. "Put your knives away!" One of the kitchen guys overheard my name and called out a cheery hello as we passed by. We got the same treatment on the way back. Hilarious.

We capped off the meal with my Coca Cola cake - the bartender assured us, "It's really chocolate cake with Coke glaze" - and her cappuccino before heading back out into the heat.

Once back at my place, we poured glasses of Sancerre, took them to my balcony and listened to Bryan Ferry, all the while trying to catch whatever night breeze was stirring as we chatted.

When we called it a night, Pru left with only a little Sancerre to prove that we'd sweated together. And for the record, there was no speed balling that I know of.

Of course, it might help if I knew what speed balling was.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Nod to the Posse Queen

It's like Matt said at Ghost Light afterparty last night, "With musical theater, you can do all the things."

The proof was in what I just witnessed: possibly the sweetest birthday tribute to a woman I've ever seen and lousy with musical theater. As one of the guests, I was sworn to complete secrecy - though because it's the theater panel that connects us, I only see her at plays and panel meetings, so I wasn't likely to be the one who blew it - and instructed when to arrive to stage the surprise.

The birthday girl had been fooled into thinking she was going to a cabaret for donors at Richmond Triangle Players, right down to the director reading a speech about the theater's accomplishments when she and her thoughtful husband arrived (intentionally) late. His speech ended with a nod to the real reason we were all there and that was our cue to roar, "Surprise!" and watch her face shift from attentive to shocked.

From there, it was part cabaret/part "This is Your Life," as Richmond luminary after Richmond talent after close friends regaled the celebrant with songs rewritten about her, along with poems, limericks and dramatic presentations written for her.

Scott Wichmann kicked things off doing "The Lady is Our Pat" to the tune of "The Lady is a Tramp," referencing her hatred for the Orange Dictator and her devotion to "the posse," her theater-going coterie, and setting the bar high for those who followed him.

Who else could sing about Pat as an Italian girl with serious cooking chops who found the love of her life in a "pasta-loving Jew" who didn't initially full respect her knives?

One of the men in the posse got up and praised her as thoughtful, considerate friend and fun to be with, before alluding to her dark side, deadpanning that, "Pat can get lost," and providing details of her lack of directional skills navigating the city, and the UR campus particularly.

It was awfully funny, but as someone who took years to come up to speed on that labyrinth of a campus, I empathized with the birthday girl.

Interspersed throughout the show were staged readings depicting everyday conversations between Pat and her husband, all of which demonstrated Pat's iron will, New York moxie and intolerance for fools. One involved Pat making an argument, starting the conversation with "A" and expounding from there. When her beloved asked what B was, she had nothing to say, to which he responded you couldn't have an "A" without a subsequent "B."

"Watch me," the actor playing Pat said, sounding exactly like the woman of the hour.

That beacon of sunshine, Georgia Rogers Farmer, sang both parts on Pat's favorite song from "Phantom of the Opera," whipping the white half-mask on and off depending on which part she was singing. Her vocal range was stunning and the song provided the opportunity for her to show off her operatic talent as well as do a headstand that caused her dress to fall, revealing shorts that said, "PAT" in pink block letters.

Leaving aside for a moment the sheer range of talent demonstrated during said number, afterward Georgia also noted, "Pat, I did that because I know you love that song from 'Phantom of the Opera' and that you wanted to see your name on my butt."

I mean, who wouldn't?

That's a birthday gift not soon forgotten. And that's not even counting the box of bacon she gift-wrapped and presented to Pat. Georgia is, after all, a domestic goddess in addition to her theater talents.

Party Organizer Jacquie O'Connor took a seat at a table onstage, pulled out a datebook and proceeded to sing a song about Pat's major preoccupation, "I Work on the List," a reference to the prodigious scheduling involved with all the posse's theater-going. Between her voice and the hilarious lyrics, the effect was like having a humorous window into Pat's daily life.

The emotional height of the evening took place when her adoring husband got onstage to read to us all the words he'd written and read to her when they married, a moving tribute to how lucky he felt to have found her.

Songbird Desiree Roots - wiping tears away from hearing his devoted words - called the happy couple up onstage and serenaded them, instructing after a moment, "You're supposed to dance!" which they proceeded to do.

After some quiet conversation between the birthday girl and the love of her life as they slow danced - the comment was, "They're discussing who's gonna lead!" - the lyrics became so powerful that Pat looked genuinely moved as they danced.

Singer Susan Greenbaum did a rousing take on "Oklahoma" that transmuted the "Ok" of "Ok-lahoma" to Pat's name and got the guests singing along to the chorus as she belted it out and did an arm jig between verses. The entertainment wound down with a group singalong about the birthday girl, set to the tune of "Mame," which anyone who knows Pat is required to know.

Once we broke for eats, I positioned myself in front of a screen showing photographs of Pat since she was a wee babe in her christening gown. I'm always fascinated to see snaps of people I know from before I knew them and sure enough, I loved seeing old pictures of her in the 70s and 80s when her curly hair was gorgeously wild (her words) and not straightened.

The kind of tresses we straight-haired girls covet. Lust after, even.

And since no birthday celebration, much less an important birthday like this one, would be complete without birthday cake, there were two: one fruit and one chocolate, both from Shyndigz. I can only speak to the latter, but let's just say the butter to salt ratio was swoon-worthy.

Birthdays come and go, so to see a heartfelt tribute by friends on such a festive occasion was like having a sugar buzz as the result of a top-notch show. Oh, wait...

There's a reason Pat always looks so happy. Proof positive that you're never too old to find the person who will dance with you onstage while everyone else toasts your happiness.

And from where I sat, A., it didn't look like either of them was looking to lead. Don't look for a B.

I'm Just a Girl

Making "The Taming of the Shrew" relevant for 21st century audiences is challenging and therein lies the rub.

I have seen the play produced every which way: set in the wild, wild west at an outdoor stage framing Roanoke Sound; set on a 1930s Hollywood movie set at a toney West End school; and as a staged reading where Petruchio lost his place in his script, causing Katarina to shrewishly shout, "Page 42!"

And while I have been a devoted audience member for gender-reversed stagings of many of the Bard's best - Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream and even Coriolanus - I had never seen a Shakespeare play done by an all-female cast. Until tonight.

Hallelujah and pass the estrogen.

With so much talent and so many girl parts on stage, it felt like a fitting production to follow the women's soccer team's world triumph. 2019, the year of girl power continues. Knowing that men had originally played all the women's parts in Shakespeare's time made it all the sweeter.

Foto Boy and I began the evening in the front tiki booth at My Noodle & Bar for dinner, scarfing my broccoli and chicken entree and his green curry tofu while he tried to cool down after a hot day spent holding a yard sale. Our server couldn't refill the blue water bottle on our table often enough.

Anticipating a sweaty evening at an outdoor stage - and because this wasn't my first Agecroft rodeo - I'd brought along fans for us both. For myself, I'd chosen a fan that doubled as a program from a 2013 Sycamore Rouge production of "Twelfth Night" in Petersburg. When I saw that the director of that production is now the artistic director of Quill and tonight's production manager and that the actress who'd played Viola would play tonight's Petruchio, it seemed like an inspired choice.

You can be sure I showed it to both of them before the night was over.

We found seats in the second row, only to wind up behind the three tallest people in attendance. When I told the guy in front of me that he won for best shirt - brown with leopard markings and bees embroidered on the front - he said I got the best lipstick award. Sharing that it's called Violetini, his response was, "Hello, Violetini."

Best summation of what we were about to see: "I know it's a problem play, but it can't be misogynistic with an all women cast, right?" Um, we'll see?

The show began, appropriately enough, with songs of female empowerment - "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar," "You Don't Own Me" and "I'm Just a Girl" - sung by the cast and accompanied by guitar, ukulele, kazoo and random compliments like, "You're so beautiful you could be an air hostess in the '60s."

Use thoughts and wits to win her

We were just getting into the set-up of the story, so it was well after Baptista tells his daughter Bianca's multiple suitors that she will not be married off until her shrewish sister Katarina gets hitched, yet not long past when Petruchio arrives looking "happily to wive and thrive as best I may" that there was a shout behind us because a woman in the audience had fainted.

All eyes turned to see.

After she came to in her seat, a cluster of doctors who just happened to be out for a night of Shakespeare, began gathering around her, suggesting she lay down on the ground for a bit. Eventually she stood and her date led her across the now-empty stage toward the building.

House manager Noah took to the stage, saying, "So, everybody hydrate! We'll resume in just a minute. Just ignore that ambulance out there. It's definitely not the first time this has happened."

Ah, the hazards of Shakespeare outdoors in July.

Waiting for the play to resume, the tall trio in front of us shared that the fainting was all their fault. Seems whenever they go out together, bad things happen to others. Sometimes it's minor, like somebody vomiting nearby and other times, like when they were at a restaurant for Cinqo de Mayo, somebody committed suicide by jumping off the balcony.

Foto Boy and I inched our chairs back away from these Typhoid Marys and hoped for the best.

When the play started up again, the brilliantly comedic Maggie Bavolack playing the aged Gremio observed, "I had forgotten my line anyway!" before taking up the script exactly where she'd left off. Not long after, as a small plane flew overhead, she improvised, "Hark! There's a plane!" and cracked up the entire audience. Like the talented comedienne she is, she waited for the laughs to die down before saying, "Hark! This gentleman is happily arrived" and then posing, hands under chin with a big smile.

I know she is an irksome, brawling scold 

Bianca Bryan was masterful as Petruchio, denying his bride Kate her creature comforts (food, sleep, clean clothing), but also hilarious, as when she showed up for their wedding wearing dirty pants with "Kiss me, Kate" embroidered on the back pockets.

For I am rough and woo not like a babe

During intermission, bottles of water were handed out for free and after claiming ours and pouring their contents into the large water bottles we'd brought, we strolled over to the stone patio to admire the waxing moon ahead of Tuesday's full moon.

Overheard on the way back to our seats: "You didn't tell me I needed to see movie before I came tonight!" to which her friend explained that "Kiss Me, Kate" was based on "Taming," not the other way around. I suppose reading it - even a synopsis - never occurred to the angry first-timer.

Act II began with the cast singing Adele's "Hello" followed by "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" and "Tell Me Do You Love Me, Too?" and an extended kazoo solo by the actress playing Bianca. Petruchio and Kate then took the stage so he could serenade her with the greatest stalker song of all time, the Police's "Every Breath You Take" while she grimaced at the lyrics.

I'm with you, girl, that is so not a love song. Creepy, that's what it is.

For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich

Throughout the hot, sticky evening, Foto Boy and I marveled at the actors running, jumping and  stage fighting in layers of heavy men's clothing while we sweated in our minimal summer garb.

Director Chelsea Burke kept the thirteen talented women busy moving the story along with only a few of the actors being difficult to hear. Allison Paige Gilman shone as the small but mighty Tranio, her sense of comedic timing impressive, her face wildly expressive and her physicality fun to watch. Desiree Dabney turned the Hortensio role into something special with her asides and noises of upset and displeasure. Easily one of the best at nailing the Bard's cadences and projecting her voice to the fainting seats was Meg Carnahan as Biondello.

But truly, everyone shone (and not just from perspiration) and you could tell how much fun they were having with this all-female cast doing such a dated, chauvinistic play. Besides, I always tell myself that while Katarina appears to have been subdued, when they're alone she calls all the shots and Petruchio does her bidding willingly.

But that's just my take so I can enjoy it without feminist guilt.

Because of the delay - where's a fainting couch when you need one? - by the time we left Agecroft, it was time to head directly to the Basement for the piano bar known as the Ghost Light afterparty, which was in full swing when we walked in.

There were cast members from "Dance Nation" already with beverages in hand and soon some of the "Taming" cast showed up, along with theater types and lovers from all over town.

As host Matt (also part of that 2013 cast on my fan from Sycamore Rouge) proclaimed in between songs, "Through musical theater, we can do all things!" Evenings like this are proof of that, no?

We found room to stand at a table near the back with a great view and fine acoustics for songs sung by anyone who cared to get up there. Song choices always vary widely and yet still hue to millennial favorites with a surprise or two thrown in, a fact I know from all my years attending these after parties.

There's "Seasons of Love" from "Rent, a perennial singalong favorite with this crowd, but also "A Whole New World" because of the crowd's childhood nostalgia. A song from "The Fantasticks" because it's currently in production at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Tonight we got a couple of unlikely choices: Radiohead's "Creep" and Elvis' "Blue Christmas."

When Foto Boy wondered aloud about the odder selections, I explained that there's no rhyme or reason to what you hear at Ghost Light. You come for the buzzy vibe, fabulous voices and to see what craziness might happen over the course of the evening.

Why, indeed. As the Bard so wisely put it, "Sit by my side and let the world slip; we shall never be younger." It's really that simple.

Truth be told, after a night at Agecroft, the air conditioning doesn't hurt either.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Dizzy, Dancing Way You Feel

Let me tell you about my 13-year old self.

This young nerd was in eighth grade at Charles Carroll Junior High (this having been before middle school became the norm) where I was an avid reader and good student who sewed my own mini-dresses. I collected 45s, babysat for spending money and had never gotten the slightest bit of attention from a boy.

I was involved in zero after school activities, which was fine by me since I could quickly knock off my homework and either hop on my bike and ride the neighborhood or find somewhere quiet to read.

All in all, I was a very happy camper with few complaints about my life beyond my 12-year old sister borrowing my clothes and returning them unwashed with her B.O. on them, which, incidentally, was far worse than my own.

I had just started wearing braces but apparently wasn't very good about oral hygiene with them, since on my way into school one morning, Anthony Basil - an uber-nerd I could never aspire to top - pointed out that I had toast in my braces after I smiled a good-morning to him.

Naturally, I was mildly embarrassed at the comment, although the fact that it came from Anthony and not a cute, funny boy helped, but mostly I was grateful for the reminder to be more vigilant about braces-brushing. That and not to eat any more toast as I'm walking to school.

Thirteen was when I finally acknowledged how much satisfaction I got from writing. Although I'd started my first novel at the beach when I was 11, it was eighth grade when my aptitude for writing became apparent to my teachers.

In English class, we were told to write a short story about anything at all, only to be surprised when six of the 37 (helluva class size) stories were chosen to be printed, bound and distributed. I was pretty proud of myself when "Has Anybody Seen My Jiffy John?" made the cut. Later in the school year, another assignment was to choose a popular song, treat the lyrics as poetry and analyze it. I chose Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and with every fiber of my 13-year old being analyzed the hell out of Mitchell's tale of life experiences I'd yet to have.

All of this is just a long way of saying that my experiences as a 13-year old bear almost no resemblance to what today's 13-year olds must go through.

I got a crash course in modern eighth graders at the Basement, where TheatreLAB's production of "Dance Nation" was opening tonight. And although the play is ostensibly about a group of competitive dancers - all girls except one boy - from Ohio trying to make the finals, the dancing is secondary to the trials and tribulations of the young girls trying to navigate adolescence.

I'm here to tell you that theirs is not the adolescence mine was. Or, as it turns out, much like the coming of age of any of us now comfortably in middle age.

During a scene where one of the girls does a monologue, she howls her affirmation of her body - men and boys telling her how perfect her ass or boobs are is already normal for her - shouting about her body confidence with fierce pride. When she finished, a woman my age nearby commented, "I never felt that way when I was thirteen."

I don't remember being unhappy with my 13-year old body at all, but nor do I recall thinking of it in sexual terms at that point. And losing my virginity was definitely not a hot topic with girlfriends.

Ditto these young girls asking each other how to masturbate, which wasn't discussed in my adolescence because back in the olden days, each of us just figured it out ourselves. Honestly, it wasn't that difficult. By high school, you might discuss it with your best friend but only after you knew what you were doing.

And mind you, we didn't have the Internet for reference.

Maggie Roop's direction is flawless and knowing, and I'd guess that being a dancer herself helped immeasurably. The young cast (and stellar Chris Klinger as dance teacher Pat, played with the utmost seriousness because winning matters) nailed the insecurities, doubts and narcissism of these girls navigating a 21st century world where everyone feels fame is attainable and competing for superiority has been bred into them since toddlerhood.

Let's put it this way: when I was 13, there was no way I or any girl I knew would have undressed in front of other girls. Hell, I had five sisters and we never got naked in front of each other once we no longer had to take shared baths.

But also, I didn't participate in team activities, so my knowledge of that kind of group dynamic as a young teen is non-existent.

As someone whose early teen years seem comparatively easy to what these young characters go through, the play registered as a sad commentary on what parents have wrought in terms of child-rearing. These are girls who have felt pressures and sexual attention from many sides since before they even get their first period, which couldn't help but make me feel sad for their lost youth.

The audience skewed heavily young so it was fascinating hearing their cheering and laughing reactions to scenes that pulled at my heartstrings and those of some other nearby Baby Boomers, one of whom noted at the end, "Not for me."

Don't get me wrong, it does my estrogen-filled heart good to sit back and, for a change, watch a mostly female cast interpret a woman-written play directed by a woman.  I can't help it if my 13-year old life didn't carry the emotional weight that the 13-year olds of today must bear as a matter of course.

The beauty of TheatreLAB's "Dance Nation" is the glimpse into the now it provides, allowing people like me to consider what a monumental shift has taken place for our girls.

Now that's worthwhile theater.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Learning to Crawl

Sip, savor, crawl, repeat.

And, when needed, offer occasional pro tips en route. Having been a regular on Secco's annual Rose Crawl since the first one in 2011 - that was the one where a thunderstorm knocked out the power, forcing us to drink our final pink in darkness - I like to think I'm uniquely qualified to spread my wisdom with any crawl virgins seeking aid.

My raspberry sherbet-colored sun dress was meant to identify me as a professional.

After a quick stop at Secco to nab my Rose passport, Lady G and I started the festivities at Acacia with a handful of other pink-clad women. Claiming seats at the bar, bartender Kenny looked at me and jokingly demanded to know where I'd been on recent Tuesday evenings, since clearly I hadn't been drinking half priced wine with friends at his bar.

After explaining I'd been at the beach for a week, he responded, "Okay, you're off the hook for one week. What about all the other Tuesdays you weren't here?"

You never know who's going to note your absence.

With plenty of appealing Rose options, G went with a perennial favorite of mine, Francoise Montand Brut Rose, while I opted to show her the pleasures of a Rose made of Pinot Noir, specifically Henri Bourgeois Petit Rose. I'm not sure if it was the tangy fruitiness or just the major shift in palate from her pink bubbles, but, after making a surprised face, she saw the light.

Kenny and I meanwhile exhorted the pleasures of German and Austrian Roses of Pinot Noir, while the pink maxi skirt-clad owner pledged her allegiance to the hard-to-find Sinskey Rose, which I love.

Acacia's bar menu for the occasion was spot on, so we indulged. First was fried squash blossoms stuffed with crab, ricotta and corn drizzled in tzatziki, with a piquant cucumber/red onion side salad riding shotgun, the delicate flavors a perfect complement to our wines. Next up were fried local softshell "bites" (actually, miscellaneous soft shell legs) enhanced by a spicy chili garlic sauce, making for a decided contrast to the squash blossom's muted flavors.

After getting Kenny to stamp my passport, we bid him adieu and walked outside to a sky filled with angry-looking black clouds threatening action. Fortunately our next stop, Cask Cafe, was a mere block away.

Taking up stools at the end of the bar near owner Dave (who let us know that Cask is now making their own sausages), we scanned their pink list, with G deciding on Domaine des Terrisses Rose solely because Dave described it as the heartiest and, at her core, G is a red wine lover. I chose Domaine de Mus Rose mainly because it was from Languedoc, not that I wasn't rewarded with a wildly refreshing wine with notes of citrus and red fruits.

A customer replaced Dave at the end of the bar, so naturally I eventually turned to him and asked if he was there for the Rose crawl (he wasn't). So I asked if he lived in the neighborhood (he didn't). Naturally I asked if he was a regular, to which he responded, "Why do you ask so many questions?"

Um, I'm a journalist, sir. And nosey.

When I came back from the loo, there was a newly-arrived Irishman sitting next to G and she was already asking where in Ireland he was from. "The only place in Ireland: Dublin," he informed her with a grin. Looking to converse with us more, he leaned in and shared that actor/director Ethan Hawke is currently living in the house next to his while he scouts a project about the slave John Brown.

Needless to say, our Irishman wasn't sharing where he lived beyond the Fan, but he didn't hesitate to mention that Mandy Patinkin had also lived in the house next door while in Richmond. Since G and I had long since finished our Rose, we got up to leave, causing the Irishman to entice us by suggesting, "Come back and I'll tell you how it goes."

Not sure I'm enough of an Ethan fan to care.

Walking toward the door to leave, we saw that the roiling skies had cracked open and torrents of rain were coming down, but luckily I'd insisted on us both bringing umbrellas for just such an eventuality. Just as we made it back to G's car, I realized that my pink-addled brain had forgotten to get my passport stamped at Cask.

G inched the car through driving rain, pulling up right out front so I could run in and get stamped by bartender Dash (best bartender name ever, no?). As he perfunctorily stamped me legit, a couple at the bar began teasing me that I had to drink pink before I got a stamp. Explaining the situation to them, they then gave me an A for effort. "That was dedication!" the woman said, noting my dress' wet parts and my dripping umbrella. "You didn't have to come back!"

Ah, but a Rose Crawl pro doesn't cut corners, young 'un.

It was still pouring rain as we drove to our next stop, so I reminded G that I'd warned her there was a 92% chance of precipitation tonight and wasn't she glad she had her umbrella. "I'd say this is 100% precipitation," she corrected me, only slightly loopily. Hilarious.

When we arrived at Secco, there were exactly two available seats at the community table in the back by the kitchen and no more. We gratefully took them, only to find ourselves sandwiched between two young mothers who were crawl newbies and an Indian couple drinking Rose but who had no knowledge of the crawl.

After ordering glasses of Raventos i Blanc Brut Nature Rose "de Nit" - a reliable Spanish favorite of mine - we turned our attention to the first-timers, both Moms with young children, to see how they were faring.

Secco was their first stop and now they were debating where to go since neither had brought an umbrella (rookie mistake). Their dilemma was where to Uber next in order to stay dry. G immediately piped up, telling them how cute and funny Kenny had been at Acacia, hoping to steer them to a good time.

But they wanted to know where we were headed next and that was Amuse. "Maybe we'll see you later!" they said as they took their fresh faces out into the storm.

Thoroughly digging our pink bubbles, we accompanied them with to-die-for gnocchi smothered in Twenty Paces Ricotta, peas, basil, green garlic and fennel, into which we added crispy fried chickpeas just because they were a worthy addition.

The Indian couple's cheese and charcuterie plate arrived (when debating what meat to get the server mentioned Sopressata, which they'd never heard of, necessitating me insisting that Sopressata was the way to go, so they ordered it) and they began chowing down, although the hunk of Madame di Bufala, a creamy, tangy water buffalo cheese from Italy, defeated them.

"It's the stinkiest cheese I've ever had and I thought I liked stinky cheeses," she said. "But this actually tastes like a buffalo after being on a treadmill in this hot, humid Virginia heat. Help yourselves, we won't eat it all." You don't have to offer G and me stinky cheese twice, so we cut off pieces, finding it a mouth and noseful, but delicious, too.

I reassured the couple that their palates would undoubtedly develop with age and that one day, Madame di Bufala would be right up their alley. When I was their age, I eschewed blue cheese because I thought it smelled like stinky feet and look at me now. They were wide-eyed acolytes by the time I finished with them and said goodnight.

Amuse was our final stop and while we'd originally had plans to see the new American art show while we were there, we had only enough time for two final glasses of Rose and dessert. Taking seats at the end of the bar, I didn't even bother asking for my passport to be stamped, I just reached over next to the absinthe fountain, picked up the stamp and stamped my own passport.

A pink-clad girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Our bartender had no recommendations beyond steering clear of the Indian Rose, even giving us a taste to show how oddly the Shiraz-based Rose finished. Instead, G went predictably straight for the heartiest , Clos la Coutale, a Malbec Rose, while I went directly (do not pass Go, do not collect $200) to Daniel Reverdy et Fils Rose, a Sancerre from the Loire Valley.

Some choices are unavoidable yet heavenly at the same time.

A chocolate pate with one perfect raspberry, one perfect blackberry and a mound of vanilla whipped cream accompanied our wines as we watched the storm dissipate over the VMFA's sculpture garden. Regrettably, we hadn't made it downstairs to see "Transatlantic Currents," though we did have a  cursory look at Carl Chiarenza's abstract photographs from the 1930s en route to the loo, for what that's worth.

By the time we'd wound down our 2019 Rose Crawl, the VMFA was closed, staff were vacuuming the floors and the Boulevard door we'd come in had long since been locked. Walking out the other entrance, we ran smack into the two Moms we'd met at Secco, who had made it only to Amuse and no further. Awed that we'd had our passport stamped at all four locations, they bowed to our superior crawling skills.

Someday, ladies, you'll have the life experience to do the same, maybe even with some Madame di Bufala along the way.

With a nod to the probability of precipitation and apologies to Matthew Sweet, tonight was what we pros call 100% fun.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

This Woman's Work

The solemnity of today required a little humor.

And by solemnity, I'm not just talking about a major car repair that took two days to complete and more money than I want to think about, I'm talking about the tragic news that the final Beetle that Volkswagen will ever make rolled off the assembly line today.

Can we just have a moment for my first car - a '66 blue Beetle - and its place in shaping who I am today? I mean, what kind of world are we leaving future generations if no more Beetles are being made?

RIP, Bug.

Add in that Mac's still a bit jet-lagged since her return from Scotland, and neither of us was feeling up to anything heavy tonight. So when trying to decide what movie to see, "Late Night" beat out other films such as "Shaft" and "Last Black Man in San Francisco," which would have required more brain reserves than we had.

Truthfully, I wanted it for Emma Thompson and she wanted it for Mindy Kaling, so we were a match made in heaven.

We started at Goatocado since she'd never been (eating at their food truck didn't count) and I'm such a fan. I'm embarrassed to admit that we ate indoors, a fact attributable on my part to all the walking I'd had to do in the hot afternoon sun and on her part to having been at work since 7 a.m.

She surprised me by ordering the ramen - which I'd never even noticed they had on the menu - while I did my usual Californian: flatbread stuffed with black beans, apples, corn, greens and avocado with a chipotle/pineapple dressing, which I proceeded to wolf down as if I'd been on the run all day. Oh, wait...

Then it was on to Criterion to see a film about sexism in the workplace, ageism, double standards, affirmative action and, central to the story, the dumbing down of entertainment in the YouTube/Twitter age of short attention spans and disdain for depth. Why have Doris Kearns Goodwin as a guest when you can have the latest YouTube sensation?

And while any one of those issues is enough to cause apoplexy, at least they were dealt with in a clever, comedic manner.

Better still, it was a comedy written by Mindy Kaling (whom, it turns out, Mac follows on Instagram) who had firsthand knowledge of being a woman in a male-dominated writing staff from her time writing for "The Office."

Only a woman writes a line like, "My Spanx have cut off the blood supply to my head" or "I am a 56 year old woman who's not had a baby and never seen a superhero movie." Need more proof? Only a woman would have her character bring cupcakes to her first staff meeting on her first day of work.

Not to go too far with this estrogen tangent, but both Emma and Mindy's wardrobes (and shoes) were also fabulously unique, albeit in completely different ways that any one of the seven - count 'em -women in the theater could appreciate.

Because of course it was a female audience, although I'm betting I'm the only one of them who's never seen a superhero movie.

Or, more importantly, had a window box full of plants in the back of her blue VW bug.

A Rich, Little Plum Again

What good is sitting alone in your room when you can come hear the music play?

Life is a cabaret, old chum, and tonight's, called "You're Gonna Hear from Me," featured the considerable talents of Billy Christopher Maupin. Having seen BC in cabaret mode before, I knew to get my butt in gear, walk the mile to Firehouse Theatre and get my name on the waiting list for the sold-out show.

Arriving early, the woman at the ticket desk informed me that tickets wouldn't be available until 7:00. Just then Firehouse's producing artistic director showed up, so she inquired if she could start selling tickets then. "Can you?" he asked. "This is Karen! Of course you can sell her a ticket. She's a VIP."

And there's the proof that the requirements for being a VIP have never been lower, although I was very happy to have gained entry. I wiled away the time before the house officially opened talking to a woman waiting for four friends to show up and complaining because, despite the fact that they're all ushers at multiple theaters around town, her friends have a tendency to show up five minutes before curtain time.

They should know better, she asserted. Someone needs parental guidance.

Once seated, I saw plenty of familiar faces: Byrd manager Todd came over to discuss last night's screening of "Vertigo," a fellow theater alliance panel member and her husband, a longtime member of the theater community I hadn't seen in eons and loads of local actors and dancers.

Best line overheard: "Distinguished character actors never go out of style!" said to, who else, a distinguished character actor.

The woman in front of me returned from the loo to praise the brand new bathroom to her daughter, who decided to go solely because her mother insisted she needed to see it. Daughter came back just as wowed, effectively leaving me no choice but to go see what all the fuss was about. I'll admit, I was impressed with the clean lines, spacious design and proximity.

When Joel came out to welcome the crowd and exhort us to visit the bar often, he, too, jumped on the bathroom bandwagon, suggesting we check out the new loos and perhaps, for nostalgia's sake, make the trek upstairs to look at the old bathrooms.

I made do with two trips to the new and called it a night.

BC arrived onstage to start the show in front of a red curtain in tight black pants, a black shirt and a white tie and barefoot, as he always is for these performances. Nearby was his fellow Campbellsville alumni  Joshua Wortham on keyboard (and sly commentary) as they launched into "It's a Lovely Day."

"I feel like Norma Desmond!" he said dramatically when the song ended. Tonight or always, BC?

Since this wasn't my first rodeo, I knew that BC would make brilliant song choices, never more apparent than in the choice of "Nobody's Chasing Me" (which could have been my theme song from 2009 through 2018, but I digress) and his spirited delivery of it.

The breeze is chasing the zephyr
The moon is chasing the sea
The bull is chasing the heifer
But nobody's chasing me

The cook is chasing the chicken
The pea wakes up pee-wee-wee
The cat is taking a lickin'
But nobody's lickin' me

I mean, why go see a BC Maupin cabaret if you don't want to hear how he changes lyrics and chooses just the right songs to describe his life? We should all be so talented.

Between songs, he talked about moving back to Kentucky where he grew up and went to college ("I live in front of a farm now") and currently works a corporate job ("I don't fit in so well. Surprise!"). Then the guy whose favorite tag is #imakethingssometimes admitted, "I haven't made anything for a year and then this opportunity came up."

How's a boy supposed to resist that?

Alternating between standing in front of a mic stand and sitting on a stool, the evening unfolded as a series of songs interspersed with reminiscing about how he got to Richmond, his time in New York City (illustrated by singing Sondheim's "Another Hundred People"), his love life and his return to Richmond, always told with a healthy dose of self-deprecation and only occasionally, shaking hands.

Naturally, he managed to toss in a reference to having won an ARTSIE last year for having directed "Preludes" on the very stage on which he stood, hilariously following that with a casual mention of having previously won an ARTSIE for directing "Carrie."

"I may as well milk it while I'm in Richmond and people know what it means." Shout it to the rooftops, BC.

Calling dancer/choreographer Emily Berg-Poff Dandridge to the stage, the two of them became contestants on a game show with pianist Josh as the host. Using white boards to write their answers, they didn't manage to match even once, but their attempts were reliably funny. Asked if BC won the lottery what he would buy first, BC wrote "a theater." Emily wrote "booze, boys and Patti Lupone."

With enough lottery winnings, both seem achievable, they agreed.

After the game show portion ended, the two dueted on "Sisters" from "White Christmas," as unexpected a choice as it was charming. Their synchronized stool dancing was limited to leg crossing but the energy was high and the smiles were major wattage.

Explaining that everyone had told him that he couldn't put a cabaret together in two days, BC belted out Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't" to refute that and then the  emotional "I Was Here" before instructing us to use intermission to get a drink because it would make everything better.

Judging by the line at the bar, it was an obedient audience. Well, that and theater people love to drink.

For the second act, BC returned in the same ensemble except with his top button unbuttoned and a black tie, this time to sit at the keyboards and plink out a song before Josh seamlessly sat down to really play.

"It's nice to be back in Richmond," BC said, beaming at all the old friends in the audience. "I know that Virginia Rep is doing 'Chicago' next year, so here's my audition!" and launched into "When You're Good to Mama" with all the passion of a man who wants a role.

Finishing, he smiled devilishly at us and suggested, "Somebody call Nathaniel Shaw right now!" Too bad there wasn't a hot line to Virginia Rep.

Calling up Katrinah Carol Lewis, the two took stools as BC told the story of them seeing Audra McDonald together at the Carpenter Stage, a major event for the uber-Audra fan Katrinah. They both marveled that Audra's glass of water stood untouched all evening as she sang her heart out. "She did not touch it," BC said, clearly amazed. "Just to mock us," Katrinah added.

During an audience singalong, Audra stopped to ask who the beautiful soprano voice belonged to, leading to a one on one conversation with Katrinah about what she sang. When she answered "Your songs," Audra told her that the world already had one of her and needed one of Katrinah, too.

"When I got home that night, I put that in my pipe and smoked it," Katrinah laughed.

The two went on to do a soul-stirring version of "C'mon Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again" that could have gone on for another half hour without anyone in the room complaining. When Katrinah took a bow before leaving the stage, audience members begged for one more from the two strong voices.

Instead, BC did his third and final tribute as uber-fan to his idol, Patti Lupone.

Saying that he and Josh hadn't wanted to use too much from their last cabaret, BC admitted that they had "Frankensteined this song back together" and I could barely stay in my seat for what I was hoping was to come. That's right, he did "Wonderful Guy" from "South Pacific," which went seamlessly into "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," which slid right into "I Wish I Were in Love Again" - modified to "The classic battle of him and him" - with a brief tangent for "My Funny Valentine" before ending up back with "Wonderful Guy."

Sigh. It was fabulous and brilliant, or, as BC himself would say, Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

While he said that he'd wanted to end the show with a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney put-on-a-show-in-a-barn kind of vibe, he also admitted that it didn't feel right. "So I'm going to do a song by a tree," he announced, signaling the end was near.

Listening to BC sing us out into the night, I couldn't have been the only one struck by how fortunate we were that he'd made his way back to Richmond to make a thing for us again, like he does. Wouldn't it be wonderful to think that he's considering bringing his award-winning talent back to the city that's already acknowledged twice that we like him, we really like him?

If I had any recommendation for such a talented man, it would be to buy a lottery ticket. But only if he promises to schedule regular cabarets with boys, booze and Patti Lupone at his theater. A healthy does of Richard Rodgers would be nice, too.

It's only a cabaret, old chum
And I love a cabaret

Hey, if he can put a cabaret this wonderfully entertaining together in two days, the boy can do anything.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sprinkler Season in Full Bloom

I can already feel July melting away like a cherry popsicle on a summer day.

Holmes and Beloved were kind enough to invite me over for dinner Sunday evening to close out the long Fourth of July holiday weekend. Even better, rather than going mainstream with the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs, they were serving up Champagne, lobster tails and North Carolina steamed shrimp.

Needless to say, I was there ten minutes early and stayed for a solid five and a half hours.

After gorging on dinner, we moved the bottle and the party downstairs to the Man Cave where I requested that Holmes play nothing but bands from the Laurel Canyon era as I regaled them with tidbits from the film I'd recently seen.

That meant starting with 1967's "Buffalo Springfield Again" which opened with the Neil Young-penned and sung "Mr. Soul," a fitting way to kick off a listening party that went on to include (duh) the Byrds, Joni Mitchell (notably absent from the documentary despite her "Ladies of the Canyon" album a few years later) and Tom Petty.

Oh, and chocolate mousse.

The only reason I left before midnight was because it was a school night and even I had Monday responsibilities, beginning with a walk with Mac who had just returned from ten days in Scotland. I was particularly impressed with the news that her group's private guide had worn a kilt - it was his family's tartan, Mac made sure to ask, though she didn't ask what was underneath it - except the day they went hiking when he wore jeans.

As we walked to the river, she described the magical sights they'd taken in: moors, castles and almost no precipitation. She liked both haggis (we agreed it's nothing but Scottish Scrapple) and blood sausage, but was less fond of the potatoes in fish and chips, a dish they naturally ate more than once.

It was good to have my waking buddy with me on the Pipeline after weeks of us being in different places. That said, I couldn't convince her to join me in my now-daily (and thoroughly enjoyable) walk through the sprinklers on Brown's Island before getting on the walkway, a fact she attributed to the phone in her pocket.

One more way that technology saps the fun out of life.

After catching up, she was headed to work and I was headed to the Northern Neck, also for work - I had an interview in Kilmarnock and another in Warsaw - but at least with better scenery than Short Pump where Mac works.

When I left the Front Porch Coffeehouse after the first interview, I was greeted by a roiling black sky in the exact direction I was headed.

Sure enough, I got barely a few miles before a fierce rainstorm slowed traffic to a crawl and visibility to nonexistent.  Since no one on the Northern Neck is in a hurry anyway, I just took it in stride, tried to avoid hydroplaning and just when I thought the sky had cleared, drove right into another squall.

Nerve-wracking as the driving was, I kept reminding myself that my Mom had just told me that they've been so long without rain that the grass crunches underfoot, so at least I was suffering for the greater good.

Back in Richmond, everything looked bone-dry, making it even more of a surprise when I saw photos from the morning storm in D.C., where cars were half submerged at 15th and Constitution Avenue, a crazy sight to behold. The Post said they got a month's worth of rain in one morning.

After a full day of road tripping, all I wanted was a comfortable seat, some vintage Hitchcock and buttered popcorn. Walking into the Byrd to see "Vertigo," manager Todd said to me, "It wouldn't be a Hitchcock movie without you."

I didn't mention it, but it will have to be since I have plans the nights he's showing the other Hitchcocks this month.

The Byrd had a great crowd for a Monday night - far more people than I'd expected, although the parking lot had been full, so I should have been suspicious - and when Todd was introducing the film, he asked who was seeing it for the first time. I was gobsmacked when fully a third of the people raised their hands.

Never seen "Vertigo?" The film that replaced "Citizen Kane" as the greatest film ever made according to the British Film Institute? Say it isn't so.

It was clear that the audience was full of newbies because when Kim Novak's Madeline character throws herself to her death from the mission bell tower, there were gasps of "Whoa!" and "Omygod!"

Guess they didn't see that coming.

Because I've seen "Vertigo" plenty of times, I could sit back and enjoy the film as a 1958 travelogue of San Francisco. Obviously, the city was far more uncrowded in 1958 than when I went there, but that only made it easier to recognize places I'd seen in real life like Lombard Street, Coit Tower (shown repeatedly by Hitch as a phallic symbol), Mission Dolores and Grace Cathedral.

Other signs of the times included a diagnosis of acute melancholia at a sanitarium and Kim Novak's character Judy asking him, "Is this some kind of Gallup Poll?"

Because this was a 21st century audience watching it, many of them for the first time, there were frequent moments when the audience had issues with things James Stewart's character said. I mean, let's face it, when a stranger knocks on your hotel door and wants to not only start seeing you but change how you dress, the style of your hair and your make-up, it's not going to sit well with modern audiences.

When Stewart told Novak he wanted her to change her hair color, he rationalized his request by saying, "It can't matter to you!" I don't know which was louder, the laughter or the sounds of female indignation. Seriously?

In the immortal words of Megan Rapinoe, "I think to be a woman in the world, in general, is frustrating. And I feel we spend so much time fighting against things."

Even in 1958, I'd be willing to bet that women wanted to be the ones who decided what color their hair was. Still do, but now we have bigger fish to fry.

Equal pay would be a fine start. Stick that in your Gallup poll, Hitch.