Archive | January, 2013

Un Ritmo Encontrar

30 Jan

Sometimes, no matter what I might like to think, traveling solo does have its limitations. It’s not that I can’t manage to have a good time in any venue, or dropkick and punt to search out something new if the evening isn’t going well. Often in these situations though, the wisdom gained from an activity, albeit enlightening, is not necessarily easy to admit. Like Friday night’s attendance at the Jefferson Center to see the Eddie Palmieri Latin Band and the Bio Ritmo Salsa Party.

I love Cuban and Latin music. It’s sassy, fun and it makes me wiggle. I like wiggling. Dancing has been something I have enjoyed all my life since the days when my aunt and I would disco in her bedroom to ABBA and the Jackson’s on 45s. Rhythm and movement came naturally to me, so my mother carted me to ballet and tap classes even though I was a chubby child. Last year’s futile search for burlesque classes ended in learning belly dance as a substitution. And aside from the occasional hip hop lesson, what I really wanted to learn was salsa, a duo dance of passion, spicy and oh so rhythmically tempting. After watching a demonstration from Lynchburg Salsa at a downtown festival in late summer, I knew I had to learn, especially after observing one young man whose movement truly captivated me. It’s not too often one sees a man dance well, and he was phenomenal, totally sinuous and physically expressive. His movement was poetry. He and his partner seemed to have all the right combination of emotion and physicality. I thought to myself, I soooo want to do that. Admittedly, passionate expression on the dance floor has taken a turn for the worse after Dirty Dancing. I’ve been to the prom as a chaperone too many times to really enjoy the little-better-than-mating displays to which I am an unfortunate witness, so salsa seemed to me appropriate, skilled, and sensual all at the same time.

I remember attending my first and only salsa lesson, a bargain at only five dollars at the Academy of Dance. I had messaged them and asked if partners were necessary. Oh no, they assured me. There are plenty of single people who come and everyone dances with everyone. That night I was so excited in my red ruffled dress, until I realized that I was the only person in the room without a partner. At the open dance afterward, the only available partner was a 4’10 delightfully talented Mexican man. I am 5’9, in bare feet.

So tonight, at first, I decided to only attend the jazz concert. It seemed wise since the seats were ticketed and I could enjoy the music without feeling like a single carrot in amongst the peas. Eddie Palmieri and his troupe were wonderful, but the rhythmic interpretive afro-Cuban arrangements were a bit more cerebral than physical, and I did lose myself in thought during the instrumental nature of the performance.

Afterward, it still seemed early and my ticket would earn me two dollars off the admission price to hear a ten piece Latin band that frankly, I had heard was dynamite.

–Hmmmmm…  I contemplated —Okay, why not? I’ll go to a salsa party.

First, I will say, it takes a bit of bravery to go to a dance alone as a woman. I have to give myself a bit of credit. Even though there were single women in attendance, they were in small groups and they knew how to salsa. I, on the other hand, only knew a basic step, and could never quite get the turn down from my lone lesson. So I knew, if I was asked to dance, Sorry would have to be the answer. That was frustrating. I kept thinking to myself, why don’t they have a solo section, a place where people can just dance alone?

Bio Ritmo started their set and I caught the wiggles in less than five minutes. Aching to dance, I thought seriously to just go let loose “with the band” which is what I normally do at a musical show that invites dancing. I move well. I do not care who sees me and I’m not shy . . . when I’m by myself.

Because suddenly, there he was standing in front of me. A 6’5 dark haired man in a silver suit named Raphael asked me to dance. I told him I didn’t know how, but he drug me out on the floor anyway. As we attempted to dance together, the lesson I began to learn wasn’t really about dancing at all… It was about me. And it’s hard to admit…so here goes:


I do not know how to let a man lead.

It’s a fault, and I’ll admit it.

Even in my salsa lesson oh-so-many months ago,  a young man in his 20’s schooled me hard on keeping tension in the arms and letting him move me.

“You have GOT to let me lead”, he said tersely.

But you’re doing it wrong, I thought. How can I follow you if you aren’t doing the dance correctly? That makes me do it wrong, too. I know how to do it right…follow ME.

Looking down at my feet, however, I stepped with him incorrectly, never learning the dance well and prayed for the song to be over. Feeling angry and defeated, in the name of gender, I purposefully yielded to imperfection.

Raphael knew how to salsa, but he couldn’t teach me the turns. It was impossible to find a rhythm and I tried my best to match his movements. But I failed. I couldn’t read his body language or discern the next move. Dancing became a physical jazz, all discordant disharmonious movement somehow in rhythm to a beat. With some dancers, the joy of movement means more than the precision and Raphael was one of those dancers. I had to push myself to let go and just enjoy moving, for the sheer joy of sharing the moment with an enthusiastic soul. Spinning and turning occurred whenever, not when it was supposed to. Right when I’d catch a pattern of movement, he’d change motion or want to flip me around which sent us off into another rhythm entirely. Life is a lot like that anyway, I suppose.

Even though we danced several times, my comfort level never reached an even point. But I think I learned a lot about connection in the process. While a gift, it’s not always going to be perfect, and my problem with leading needs attentiveness and balance. I need more practice with balancing in many areas, not just in dance partners. Finding a way to be myself and yet, hold back. Only stepping when the note calls; the even back and forth trade of lead is dancing at its best. It will take patience and practice. Perhaps I ought to watch other dancers first, for a while.

An Old Fashioned Snow

28 Jan

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Elizabethan black suede heels were entirely inappropriate, and as I stood outside on my mother’s carport surveying the inch or so of freshly fallen snow in 20 degree weather, I thought to myself, You knew it was going to snow, seriously Cyndi. What were you thinking? Ready to venture down to First and Sixth at the Patrick Henry Hotel for dinner, I tied my ankle bows tight, took it slow out of the neighborhood’s unscraped roads, and prayed for clear side walks. The drive was pretty uneventful at a mere five minutes; seemingly everyone else had heeded media warnings to stay in unless one really needed to venture out.

Almost empty streets glistened in the muted grey twilight as I began to make my way from the car down the sidewalk toward a classic Roanoke hotel now turned apartment building on South Jefferson downtown. The snow crunched under the tips of my black suede toes and I stuffed my leather gloved hands farther into my pockets. It was bitter cold and the warm light of the hotel lobby spilled out onto the sidewalk only a block away. I expected to see a doorman, his breath a white cloud into the fast dying light. Not here any longer, only a nostalgic notion linked to stories of a downtown from my grandmother’s era. One filled with shops that packaged one’s purchases in boxes with tissue, and ladies in hats and gloves passing the tipped fedora or two upon approach to this grand hotel.

I grew up in Roanoke, but left for college at the time when I would be of an exploratory age. Downtown went through a tremendous urban renewal during those years and after my schooling, I never spent much time here to really become a part of the scene. As a visitor now, I see downtown Roanoke from a different light. The streets are easy enough to navigate and the city revival has mellowed into what I might call a second age. New restaurants, cafes and shops have sprung up between old favorites that were trendy just a decade or two back. It reminds me of a mini Richmond in its peppering of restaurants and off shoot hip-urban neighborhoods. On this night though, the snow quieted the streets quite absent of Friday evening traffic.

I entered the Patrick Henry through the main lobby, a classic marble and chandelier lit space including the quiet and formal, Penn Y Deux lounge to the right side. I quickly saw an entry to First and Sixth down a dark wood paneled side staircase. Making my way through a small modern dining room decorated in beautiful warm gold and chocolate brown, I reached the short intimate bar at the front. The bartender Corinne greeted me and directed the hostess to take my coat and check it. Ah, yes…old school. This was the beginning of some of the best service and ultimately one of the best experiences in dining solo I have had yet.

Usually, I order a glass of wine, but tonight’s chill and the mood of the place pushed me to order retro: an Old Fashioned. I’m not a big cocktail person. I have probably ordered three mixed drinks in the last fifteen years, but this place spoke of tradition: Martinis and Manhattans, Gin Rickeys and Cosmopolitans. While Sinatra and Benny Goodman floated out across the bar and candlelit dining space, I watched the snowy city street from a comfortable bar chair, Old Fashioned in hand, its slightly woody sweet orange edge yielded to a tiny touch of flame. Funny thing about bourbon, from the second sip, a warmth tends to begin to radiate from the core outward, like a little internal fireplace. I began to feel quite comfortable and only twenty minutes into my experience I decided, this would definitely be a regular spot for me if I lived in Roanoke, a home bar, one in which I could write.

Corinne and I began to chat a bit about the snow, recalling the big storms of 2010. Working at another restaurant at the time, she and a coworker were the only employees able to make it in during one of the big snows since they lived close by. We talked of how people seem to change during snowfall, gathering closer. Their shared world becomes a bright place against the soft cold outside. As the evening darkened more folks began to arrive in coats and hats. I began to think of snowy streets in New York, traffic lights blinking against the silvery white sky, no sound except for the muffled fall of flakes. Only the occasional rush of voices, piano music, and golden light spill from restaurant doors breaking the quiet as people brave the streets to walk  arm in arm in the pause of a great white blanket.

Soon though, Corinne eased through my thoughts to bring me a first course, a salad of thinly sliced roast beets and goat cheese with balsamic dressing which balanced against the sweet smokey orange of the Old Fashioned. The warm goat cheese croquette, crusted with panko, perched atop wild baby greens and julienne carrots. As an entree, I enjoyed another small plate, crawfish pie. Fresh baked puff pastry was filled with a hot crawfish newberg which wasn’t overly cream laden or rich, but savory with a lobster like sweetness that shrimp just doesn’t provide. As I ate and gazed out of the window, I thought about how snowfall creates a peacefulness that stops time, a moment of stillness. This is what a great place does; it suspends time so that we can connect or reflect, as if we need a reason to pause our lives for such necessities. But they are necessities, perhaps that’s why we love a good snow. It gives us permission to stop and enjoy the world in the moment as we used to decades ago. A great restaurant or bar provides the closest place to inner stillness many people can get in a fast world that tends to neglect the small details of the past, like a hat and gloves, a fur muff, a cigarette holder, a topcoat, a doorman’s greeting, a coat check girl, a well made cocktail from a barkeep who knows you by name. And a pure tenor voice in the quiet of a snowy night.

The snow is snowing
The wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm
Why do I care how much it may storm
I’ve got my love to keep me warm

Time to Breathe

24 Jan

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Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine — Neruda

The past weekend’s ramblings took me into the hills of Nelson and Albemarle to some local Virginia wineries. After meeting Michael Shaps representative Santa Rava at Magnolia Foods here in Lynchburg and chatting, I knew I wanted to venture out to Wineworks for a visit. The lovely aspect of visiting wineries in Virginia is really the drive itself. Most seem to be tucked up into some “holler”, the drive a virtual “over the river and through the woods” adventure to some high hill and vines. In any season, the windy road yields more often than not a surprising vista, a tree that begs a stop to say hello or motionless cows by the fence just being cows. And when one arrives to the rows of vines, usually a small cottage is settled in behind them, filled with bright bottles. Similar to Martin Luther’s thought, if beer is of earth, wine is definitely of the heavens. The varieties are so complex, the combinations fascinating from white to rose’ to red, steel aged to oak aged, dry to sweet to fortified. All wine presents a challenge to me,  to decipher the magic that went into making it. I know a bit about wine, probably more than the average person, but there is so much more to know.  The best part about this challenge is that to do so, one must taste. So to tastings I go.

Clarence and I rambled up Route 29 to Wineworks on Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t find a little cottage in the woods in which to pause; it was the back of a warehouse. Remodeling is occurring, so finding the restroom among hoses and forklifts was an adventure in itself. The warehouse room was cold and concrete, filled with boxes and barrels, so I stood with my coat on to sample all the wines once again. Somehow this time, they were different. I previously enjoyed the Michael Shaps wines, especially the Chardonnay and the Petit Verdot, but the ones which seemed so amazing to me on Friday last were not so today, and yet others were better than before. After going through the line up white to red, my picks were the Wineworks Rose’, the nose faintly floral with a lovely soft strawberry, slight cedar back note, and the 2010 Merlot /Malbec blend. I shouldn’t even comment on it since it’s sold out, but it had wonderful cassis, cherry, and spice. I almost offered to buy the rest of the open bottle.

As I tasted, I fell into conversation with two lovely young nurses who had also stopped by. As we talked, the conversation rolled into traveling and philosophy, and then the universe was at work again. One of them said, “You know, I should be getting married and having children, but somehow that’s just not really what I want right now” There’s that “should”. So I chatted with her about journeys and Joe, and as she talked about what she wanted in her life, I thought about how conditioned we are to walking a cleared road, one we can see without too much scrutiny. We talked about relationships, about personal ambitions and it lead me to think of the many lessons in wine.

Like so many other women, I was conditioned to believe that this is how it goes:

You educate yourself enough to get a good paying job while trying to find a partner to marry, have children, and live out the middle suburban dream of house and hearth and family, either working in the home or doing the job and family like Superwoman. There is that time issue when it comes to children we are told and honestly, it is true that most people partner in the first part of their adult lives with greater ease. Meeting these two young women confirmed for me, though, that the development of self is so important. To be entirely who one is with no apologies. Then, the bringing of that lovely prepared wine to the table of relationship can happen.

But as I reflected further and we chatted more, I realized there is another caveat in this. To fully appreciate the wine, it must be served correctly. Most good wine needs to breathe, to develop into what it was intended to be while it is being enjoyed. There is the making of self and then there is the sharing of it and both must be accomplished in balance for magic to happen. Nuances are lost in crowding, in not letting the air transform it. From one bottle to the next, in one environment to the next, the wine changes and one must allow the time and space to then experience it at the right moment.

I traveled to First Colony later on in the day and then to Delfosse on Sunday, but the visit to Wineworks stayed with me. At First Colony, the pourer barely gave me a sip in each tasting, so I couldn’t judge well. She stood right in front of me with the next bottle, so I felt pressure to decide quickly. It was the shortest tasting session I’ve ever had, and although I liked the Reserve Chardonnay well enough to buy a bottle, my experience wasn’t pleasant. I’ll not go back.

At Delfosse, the pourer was busy, and I’m sure tired of pouring the same thing, saying the same thing, for the hundredth time. It showed. But I slowed my experience, and that in turn, slowed his pouring. He didn’t seem to mind me taking a tiny bit of extra time to smell, to taste, to note. In a way, it gave him some moments to catch his breath, to take in some air. My decision of what to buy waited until after I had enjoyed the delicious crepes offered for the day, too. My picks? The Viognier, which has a wonderful apricot and honey quality and slight effervescence, and their Deer Rock Farm red blend which has a slight sweet berry edge with high vanilla notes and is served chilled. Then, my favorite, the 2007 Merlot which is so balanced. Beautiful nose, firm structure and body, rich blackberry, smoke, and oak on the palate.

I stayed until closing, resisting the urge to watch the clock or my phone. Before I left, I took Clarence for a walk around the small lake there and on the way home, I pulled over on Route 29 to watch the last bits of sunset behind black velvet and Chantilly  tree limbs against an apricot grey-blue panorama. I thought of how important this time is to take, to allow space enough for changes to this wine of self, and to breathe. I sat for a long while on the side of the road. A long while.

Homeward Bound

20 Jan

If you ever change your mind
About leavin’, leavin’ me behind
Oh, oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet lovin’
Bring it on home to me, yeah

Okay, lets talk about the blues and let’s do it honestly.

What it do to a passionate woman?

I’ll keep this civilian and as delicate as I can, but if you don’t really want to know about my first experience with the blues ala Eli Cook, stop now…because I’m going there. Let me preface this by saying that the day’s travels were not as astounding as I had imagined. Dinner at Wild Wolf Brewing Company in Nellysford was entirely forgettable, wretched even (little better than Buffalo Wild Wings), and if I could have left without paying the check I would have. Honestly, it was the lowest tip I’ve ever left for service and I wondered how stoned all the wait staff actually was, and that was at the bar. So, I was looking for the blue lining in the coffin of the day, so at least I could rest the day’s end in respectable comfort.

Upon entering Rapunzel’s Coffee and Books in Lovingston, the atmosphere was quiet and well, a bit on the reserved side. It’s a coffee shop that has wine and a good beer selection. I immediately began to think, hmmmm.. blues in here? Must be the slow, sort of folksy blues…maybe a little James Taylorish type of blues.

The atmosphere is really rather interesting.Walton’s Mountain meets antique shop meets bookstore. It’s hushed, really hushed. To my left there were two older gentlemen asleep at their tables. Asleep, sitting up. So I wasn’t really sure how the evening was going to go, but I had come this far; I might as well go for it. When Eli took the stage, he reminded me of the grunge guys I loved so well from the 90’s, mixed with a bit of modern mountain man. Entirely alluring, handsome, masculine and entirely young, too. When he began to play and sing, this Nelson County white boy meets Texas bluesman meets reincarnated “down at the crossroads” black man had enough salt and gravel in his voice to keep a woman from freezing up for miles and miles and miles. Last night was cold in Nelson County, until I got to Rapunzel’s. Part of me giggled and the other part of me said shame on you for giggling.

The style of his blues definitely has a Texas twist,  raw and electrified with a slide up and down the distortion scale. Its hillbilly meets Hendrix all barreling down a dusty hot road. But it connects to that side of a gal, that side that men might do well to pay closer attention to. Someone once told me a long long time ago, that if you wanted to know a woman’s true nature, watch her on the dance floor when they’re playing the blues; you’ll know right quick where her intentions lie. By the fifth song, I began to think,  Wonder if they’ll think I’m entirely too much if I just get up and dance? Then I began to wonder, Why isn’t everyone else moving? The gal sitting in front of me was catching the wiggles, but she and I were definitely the only ones on the same wavelength.

Listening to Eli play his own tunes interspersed with Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray, Muddy Waters and other blues giants was raw and real. Several tunes stood out such as Anything You Say, Don’t Ride My Pony, and his Miss Blues’es Child. When he launched into a rendition of Sam Cooke’s Bring It on Home to Me, my hand went to my heart. Jimi’s Bold as Love, and his finale of Lennon’s A Day in the Life blended into She’s Got a Ticket to Ride shows his musical versatility and talent. This guy is ah—mazing. After two hours, I was still wondering, Why is no one dancing? Clapping along at least? How much can I wiggle in my antique wooden folding chair and not break it?

In that sort of venue, up close and personal, I began to think about the troubadours of old, the wandering minstrels who sang of love and romance to ladies of court. How could they not fall under the spell? I sat dead center stage, maybe twenty feet from Eli’s one man combo in perfect view of that left foot on the beat box, right foot on the tambourine and both hands making a gorgeous acoustic electric sing her heart out. Music like that sends an imaginative mind into overdrive. His music and persona has a kind of broody moody charm that makes a woman feel well, to quote Aretha, like a natural woman. Like cooking collards and pork barefoot in the kitchen on a August afternoon so hot the only solution is a cotton sundress with no knickers and a beloved waiting in an old creakin’ cherry post bed in Me’mie’s well worn and ironed hundred year old French linen sheets. And the song to come? Practiced, played for the hundredth time, but honest to heart as the first time through.

That’s as far as the blues will take a wandering lass. And regrettably last night, takin’ it on home was a solo adventure.  😉

You know I’ll always be your slave
Till I’m dead and buried in my grave
Oh, oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet lovin’
Bring it on home to me, yeah ….

Inside the Light

13 Jan

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For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.  ― E.E. Cummings

On my walking tour of Carytown yesterday, Maureen took us by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. As I rounded the corner into the sculpture garden, brilliant cardinal red glass spires, giant slashes against the grey stone building, shot their color upward from the spiky green grass lagoon in front of the museum cafe. It was as if all the color in the landscape had leaked whatever tiny bit of red it might own into those long bloody cat tails piercing the courtyard air. So, this is Chihuly, I thought. Yes, now I remember the glass sculpture of his at the MFA in Boston, that enormous lime green glass tree that literally took my breath away. At that moment I knew I needed to come back today to see the exhibit, even if there was a fee to view.

How can I describe stepping into a darkened cave only to be instantly dazzled by an oceanic outer space world of twisted, ribbed, iridized and marbled glass? Colors so candy-like in their richness, pigments so piercingly pure that the wild assortment of them resembles a pile of enormous penny sweets. The first display, two boats, one filled with various sizes of miniature glass globe planets brought to mind a metaphor: the universe as a ship carrying multiple worlds, souls upon souls, all unique yet common in their fragility. The second ship sprouted tentacles and hotly colored sinuous arms in a wild array of movement. Both skiffs set afloat on a great dark sea of the universe, an outer space garden joined in light and motion against the soft black of emptiness.

I felt swimmy……the light of the Persian ceiling rested on my shoulders like a soft mantle as I walked under  clouds of seaweed and twisted creatures in a surreal invertebrate universe. Amorphous hollow half globes glowed palely in the adjacent room, their sides undulating in opalescent white like moonlit cacti in a winter desert. Following the landscape into the next room, coral bowls radiant with interior color, seemed to almost breathe as their edges spread against the black air. That glowing, captured within the glass itself, gave the inanimate very real energy and life.

Entering the main hall, the union of turquoise, bronze, gold, black, white, amber, and lime green iridescent hushed the room in tranquility. In an oxygen aquarium, I circled the centerpiece like a koi in a pond, hovering here or there to catch a glimpse of shadow within the sparkles of light.

As I sat on a bench to the side, a subtle bittersweet thoughtfulness fell over me. I began to think about a conversation that I had held with a friend of mine the night before. We had been talking about travel experiences, those that had really transformed us. He told me about having had the opportunity to go to the Amazon rain forest to film indigenous tribes there and the amazing lessons their stories, culture, and the landscape had shown him. But there was a moment where he paused and I could see something that seemed hard to express appear in his memory. He said,

How do you still own a moment when the person you shared it with goes away? How can I hold on to an experience, so amazing and yet, not feel the pain of losing the person who shared it with me?

This splendor of glass and light brings to my mind an understanding from his question. Beauty and fragility are sometimes one in the same. The purest moments are sometimes those which can be broken most easily and so we should take care to protect them. I often think perhaps  we should just remember the moment only, forgetting the before and the after. For only in the moment is the purest truth and nothing can change its capture. Like these bent and twisted, but unique fragile sculptures, the moment of beauty and truth is caught when the heat begins to subside. It hardens around the moment of passion that made it, almost stopping it in time like a beloved memory. None of the beauty is lost inside of it. It’s only the reflection against the past, against the future, which can evoke the pain of loss. In a way, maybe we should learn to be inside the light of memory, love it, and then leave the joy of it there to go back to rather than trying to drag it with us to pale against the present.

For when we drag out the joy, we lessen its brilliance. We spiderweb crack the moment by making it larger than it was and eventually what we’ve accidentally made in passion and inspiration, like hot blown glass, we destroy instead of keeping as a beautiful manifestation of the light of life. I often feel so sad about the way we handle each other’s fragile hearts. Over time, with repeated cracking and careless handling, placing it upon a shelf seems the only way to keep it whole. But my granny used to think that you should use your best glassware and china, because it showed people you loved them everyday, not just on special occasions. And if something broke well, you remembered the use that broke it and that might make you feel better. And of course in the memory, it’s there unbroken …forever.

In Prospect of a Tiny Treat

12 Jan

I’m just going to put it on out there. I’m in love with Carytown, that amazing stretch of quirk in Richmond that extends for blocks to the west of city central. I love its jumbled blend of bistro, bookstore, coffee shop, thrift store, restaurant, theater, bicycle shop, tattoo studio, lingerie store, perfumerie, diner. Each little façade is unique and reflective of its wares.  It reminds me of the time before malls, the few slight memories I have of when shopping was accomplished from store to store connected by sidewalk in fresh air, sans piped in music and sunglass kiosks. Here in Lynchburg, well, take a look at Wyndhurst. Sigh. Can you say shiny package of factory façade cookie cutter boxes? Carytown’s colors and smells take me back to NYC, only in miniature. For someone who isn’t quite ready for a solo exploration of CITY, it’s the perfect size. Relatively easy navigation, public parking, and incredible variety make it a perfect spot for experiencing all sorts of items, cuisine, and interesting people.

This afternoon, I took a walking tour with Maureen Egan of Real Richmond Food Tours, two and a half hours of exploration into some of the variety of food on the palette of the Carytown scene.  We visited several bistros, bakeries, a butcher, and then traipsed over to the VMFA sculpture garden, accidentally running into the director of the VMFA, Alex Nyerges. Even in his jogging clothes, he stopped to chat with our small group and welcome us to Richmond, inviting us to visit the VMFA. That is a mark of a dedicated community servant, at least in my book.

All the places to which Maureen introduced us were unique and interesting, but Dixie Donuts and Carytown Cupcakes caught my heart right away. Specialty shops that play grownup with childhood comfort food are the epitome of creativity to me. Something simple and well loved is transformed into something amazingly unique and most times incredibly delicious. I remember as a child loving certain foods, and taking great pleasure in them, dishes my granny made that still mean “home” to me like angel biscuits, baked macaroni and cheese, jets (peanut butter balls coated in chocolate), and iced boiled custard. As adults, sometimes we barely remember how to relish food like children, unless we are fortunate enough to have them in our lives to re-teach us the abandon that comes with enjoying simple food.

Dixie Donuts is a 50’s retro gourmet bakery featuring some of the most unusual donuts I’ve ever seen. Maureen told us the owners took their concept from Federal Donuts in Philadelphia. They plan to stretch the menu out to Korean Chicken and frites, but honestly, after I saw the sheer variety they offer, I was impressed with just the single focus.  Upon entering we met the manager, Carol, resembling a vintage 50’s model in her kerchief and carmine lipstick.  The décor is right out of an old diner in theme with jadeite on the coffee counter and Atomic wallpaper. The donuts are baked fresh daily and aside from the regular vanilla chocolate iced, double chocolate iced, and sprinkle variety they feature donuts like: French Toast,  Butterscotch, Dulche de Leche, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Oreo, Aztec (chocolate chipotle cinnamon with candied pepitas), Maple Coffee, Samosa, and The Virginian (sweet potato with praline pecans). There was even a “Chihuly” in honor of the Chihuly art exhibit at the VMFA covered in glassy candy bits. I chose a Rockin Moroccan, a chocolate spice donut dusted with cinnamon powdered sugar, pistachio, and a yogurt raisin plopped into its dimpled center.  Peppery spice in the chocolate balanced its richness, but the donut itself was light, slightly crispy on the exterior and not terribly sweet the way most donuts and other bakery treats are in our sugar saturated culture.

Similarly, our visit to Carytown Cupcakes reflected the same philosophy of bake fresh daily and keep it simple, but creative. Those who know me can attest to my obsession with cupcakes. The three edible substances I will not live without are coffee (daily), wine (in moderation), and a cupcake (whenever “treat” is needed). Carytown Cupcakes is in a word adorable. . .it’s total pink Victorian valentine meets Barbie Dream house in its décor. The cupcakery’s expansive display case draws the eye to dozens of little rows of perfectly iced treasures, but the large plate glass window in the back allows patrons to actually watch the baking. Our group was invited toward the long counter to sample as many bites of the daily offerings as we desired. This is where the creativity takes off.

Remember those birthday party cupcakes we all had as kids? The blue iced, box flavored muffins we all thought were outrageously good? Carytown Cupcakes come in flavors I had never even contemplated: chocolate with salted caramel icing, s’mores, red velvet, raspberry lemon custard, Nutella, cranberry pistachio, snicker doodle, hummingbird with cream cheese icing, tiramisu, toffee chocolate, as well as the more simplistic devil’s food with vanilla buttercream. Some were topped with nuts, m&m’s, and even gummi worms. But the true stars were the apple filled, decorated to look like an apple top with yellow or red sprinkles and then the gluten free and vegan varieties which I had never experienced before.

The star of my show? Vegan Lavender Vanilla.  From the moment I put that bite in my mouth I was in complete curious rapture. The lavender is subtle, but enough to waft up into the nose when it’s eaten, like my great Aunt Gladys’ rum cake did when I was a child. The blend of scent and flavor is so different, so unexpected that it actually made me exclaim out loud, (eyes roll back in head, turn to the lady next to me) “Oh….my…god….you have GOT to try this.” And then I promptly took two more samples to study the flavor. Too much lavender and it would be like eating soap, not enough and it’s a slightly lavender colored vanilla cupcake. Upon first bite the lavender fresh edge goes right up the inside of the nose, from the throat up, and then the vanilla edge with a slight herbal touch on the tongue follows. The cake sweetness is buttery, not sugary and so it reminds me a tiny bit of a grainy Portuguese sweet bread in flavor, moist cornbread in texture. The icing isn’t overwhelming at all, that’s the real sweet hit. The balance is beautiful. And the sprig of fresh lavender on top, a nice visual touch. The cupcake clerk chatted with me a bit about it and she let me know they make a whole herbal line of cupcakes, some with lemon verbena, some with orange and rose water. I told her, “You should create a Turkish Delight.” Wouldn’t we Narnians love that?

Having these small treats brought to mind the way in which a tiny fancy sweet can brighten a dull day. Food culture seems to have forgotten that sometimes a little bit goes a long way. It doesn’t have to be enormous and gooey, like some of the desserts I see carried out in virtual troughs at chain restaurants. Sheer overload takes away the specialness of it. It’s a treat. That word means special, occasional, momentary joyfulness. That’s something I am learning a lot about these days, to enjoy the sweet spots of joy and to remember them in the dips and pauses. It must seem silly to contemplate a cupcake, but kids do it. Watch children that aren’t fed sweets as a regular rule. That perfect little stack of cake and fluffy sweet top will yield three to five minutes of sensory elation. It’s the joy of living in their faces. Next time I have a cupcake or a donut, I’ll be more mindful of that. Shouldn’t we all?

Raising the Bar

7 Jan

Where do you write best?, Donna said. 

Up at the bar or in the coffee shop, I said.

She tilted her head to the side. What about at home?

No…not so much there, I sighed. Only when it’s warm, outside in the back room.

I need to be alone, in public.

Her eyes narrowed a bit above a slight smile, which meant I needed to explain. Only I couldn’t. The only thought that came to mind was that wherever I was writing, I needed to have someone take care of my needs while I dove into the images in my head surrounding an experience, either real or remembered. When I swim in words, like a channel glider, I need to be only a writer, only a writer and nothing else.

So reader, I have decided to invite you into my world of traveling for one. This blog, filled with my peculiar style of half review half non-fiction essay was born of two parents. One, a lengthy list of experiences I wanted to accomplish in my life, a “bucket list”. Living with intention, I call it. And second, the absence of anyone to really take with me.  As a single woman at my age, most of my friends are married with children and as much as I might like to find a companion for many of my experiences, there seems to be a singular lack of them.

Because I did not want to wait to live, I decided I should just do whatever I wanted now. My travel to Richmond in July 2012 was really the beginning of this mindset. But after December on the island, where I needed to retreat for healing and soul searching, I discovered I actually enjoy being with myself. Traveling alone or with Clarence in tow, it doesn’t much matter. I am able to see the world with greater clarity, fully immersing myself in whatever I am doing and learn how to balance savoring and saving, being present and yet keeping it for future contemplation.

I don’t prefer my own company to the company of like-minded people, but I do prefer it to settling for a companion whose presence seems needed solely to provide me social permission to be out of the house. I see so many women doing that. They feel they need the security of others to validate somehow pursuing their desires. They need not do that. Men don’t. When I go eat up at the bar, or attend an event alone, I am generally the only woman among a crowd of men who do not think twice about enjoying their own company in a fine place.

When one lives with intention, one adopts the mindset that the only person responsible for one’s own happiness is oneself. A marvelous time  or a miserable time, just as any companion might provide, can result. It’s one in the same. And for me this said, Why wait? Safety? There are ways to ensure that as much as possible. Comfort? Hopefully that’s where recommendations  come in. Some dining places and events seem to be more conducive to solo  enjoyment than others.

My hope is that in following my travels, you might either enjoy these same spots or find new ideas about ones to enjoy on your own, both my feminine readers and masculine alike. The focus of my writing is changing more toward  review now, but with a personal twist. It will take me a few posts to get the right balance, but I aim to share the experience first and then find the lesson in it if I can.

I don’t pretend to be the world’s best writer or photographer. So the writing is imperfect and I am okay with that. Its human. And my camera and eye has its limitations. If  you  comment please do so in kindness. I want to share all this with you, hoping that you will find something to carry along in your own journey.

That’s really what all this is about: a journey. Joe Campbell would say we all walk the same journey; we are just on different points of it at particular times. The joy is already knowing how it will turn out, because we all do. We return home, master of two worlds and then, we share our wisdom with those we love. That is my intention.


A New Day

2 Jan

Today, I resumed my old life.

It wasn’t fun until I reached the working out part. My late night escapade to visit friends without my wallet (unbeknownst to me) was really the wake up call I needed. I have GOT to reclaim my brain. Balance, that is the key. I have stayed so long in my head that I’m absorbed by my own recursive world; its slightly off kilter.

The last day in DC, Beloved said to me:

Been filling up my life with life, now add some people to it.

And its true. But I need to add quality people. Connection is the gift of the Universe but only those connections that are reciprocal and kind. Tonight at the gym, I really understood that in a big way. I have missed the work out crew. I have missed my friends at school. I have missed that feeling of community that I had on Ocracoke. That is the energy I need to put myself into every time I become frustrated, or hurt, or allow others to judge me. I believe them all too easily and that has GOT to go.

I have a new arsenal now.

The ability to go places and enjoy myself or learn, alone.

The old life of work out, and armor building and seeing friends, somehow this new solitude and the old life need to merge. I need to fill my life with things that make me happy.

So, I need to dream ahead again,  change my routine, go back and revisit that bucket list of mine from last summer, but add more. I need to see if there is a way I can be there for my friends, the way they were there for me. Then, I’ll make it to the end of the school year and June.

If my whole world can change in less than 30 days then what could six months do? And its bound to be better.

I’m not sure I will be able to write a full post every day, but I’m going to try.  I have made time on Thursday nights for my “sit at the bar, have dinner,  and write” time.

Three places are best for me: Mangia, Isabella’s and Dish, so far. I need to try out Main Street Eatery, Bull Branch, and then Shoemaker’s….maybe Waterstone.

There are so many places that I haven’t taken a camera and a notebook, and perhaps I really do need to start writing less personally, maybe about dining/ traveling alone, and how a woman navigates that. I like writing about the places I am going all by myself. However,  I do need to think about how to make the writing remain personal, but not so intensely personal that I wouldn’t want anyone else to read it.

After talking with Mom tonight and remembering my post about oysters, I need to be wary of my shell, and to be careful about who I let in. Besides, who besides my friends would I really want reading all this stuff? Who would really care?

Tomorrow I start again. The old world arrives to the new.


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