Thursday, July 4, 2019

Portrait of a Sweaty Woman

Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me, those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

You tell 'em, Henry James because they won't listen to me.

Since I got back from the beach Sunday, it's clear that Richmond has settled into full-on summer mode. In Jackson Ward, that means clearing out of the 'hood, whether permanently, as is the case with VCU students, or temporarily, as seems to be the case with a goodly percentage of my neighbors.

The sense around here is that everyone was told to blow this pop stand but I didn't get the memo, which is fine because I don't mind living in a ghost town for a few months. With each day that passed this week, I noticed fewer cars on the road as well as parked, with barely a fraction of the number of people I usually encounter when walking to the river.

A river which is decidedly low at the moment given the extended heat.

Walking over to Bar Solita for a nosh with my date last night only proved my point. Other than a few people milling about in front of the November Theater awaiting the start of "The Wiz," the streets were all but deserted. Inside Bar Solita, other stuck-in-the-city stragglers like us were finishing up happy hour, but once they cleared out, there wasn't much left in the way of humanity beyond a dozen people.

Not that we cared. A bottle of Can Petit Cava Brut provided light refreshment and a long finish, while orzo salad, eggplant caponata and quinoa tabbouleh delivered nourishment that wouldn't send us into sleep mode.

We were so engrossed in conversation as I shared all my upcoming trips to the Northern Neck to do interviews for stories (not to mention, an excuse to drop by Merroir to scarf oysters) that I hadn't realized that the bartender had nothing better to do than listen to us blather.

Finally, he came over, grinning, and asked, of all the unlikely questions, if we were from Lancaster. "I heard you mention Morratico and Whitestone," he explained of hearing those unlikely locations mentioned in Richmond.

After I shared that I do a lot of writing about that area and that my parents have lived there for 30+ years, my date piped up to say he had a house in Irvington. The bartender's mind was being blown right in front of us. The question was, how did this charming young man in the Hawaiian shirt know what we were talking about?

"I grew up in Belle Isle State Park," he explained, looking not a little proud of it. "My Dad was a ranger so we lived on park land." Whoa, what an awesome place to grow up.

I've been to Belle Isle State park many times - it's minutes from where my folks live, basically a straight shot from their dock by water - for picnics, music, walks and to check out boat rentals, but I'd had no clue park personnel ever lived on the property. Suddenly, I wanted to hear more about his childhood. He told us about summers spent swimming in the river, riding his bike on the roads winding through the park system, exploring the woods and commandeering the picnic pavilion.

Hell, the Hardy Boys only wished they'd grown up in a place with so much exploration potential.

Not surprisingly, once he'd come of age, rural Lancaster County lost its allure so after a detour to Key West, he'd landed in Richmond, specifically Jackson Ward, which he loved. The only place where he lost points was in admitting that he'd never been to Merroir. "I haven't been to Rappahannock, either," he said sheepishly, probably because it's barely five blocks away.

I informed him that there was no need to pay twice as much at Rappahannock for the same oysters he could get by driving to Merroir and he looked relieved to hear it.

Once we'd finished a slice of triple chocolate cake and the last of the bubbly, we bid our new friend farewell and headed out into the even-emptier streets, where we were wholly surprised to see puddles everywhere as we strolled home. Apparently it had rained, if not long at least hard, and we'd never even noticed, despite Bar Solita having two entirely glass walls.

It wasn't much cooler, but the pavement had that lovely hot, wet smell that inevitably follows a summer rain shower or thunderstorm, so there was at least the illusion of cool. For people like Henry James and me, that's enough to get us to the next summer afternoon.

Speaking of which, if it winds up being so steamy that a heat nap is in order, all the better. In the immortal words of Sam Keen, "deep summer is when laziness finds respectability."

Only in summertime could those two be such fine bedfellows.

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