Archive | March, 2013

Morning Cossee

31 Mar


I was awake all night. Thought and word, scene and image all ticking movements, swept my mind like second hands in a room of clocks. Not knowing which had the precise time, I slept little till dawn. On opening my eyes, though, there was a directive: I must go see my grandfather this Easter morning. I do not need a sanctuary other than this, a space where I can be within complete love. I have never visited his grave until today. To be truthful, before this morning I couldn’t actually find it, having attempted twice before with little luck. No one in my family could tell me where he lay exactly. They do not visit graves.

When he died, I had just turned eight years old and no one prepared me. Even though he was dying in the last stages from cancer, they didn’t feel the need to back then. I was too young to understand. He was just gone, no grieving from anyone. In the ensuing year, my mother married for the first time in my memory and I changed schools. But no one was looking out for me. I had no tools to cope with any of the massive change. All I knew was the high level of warmth and affection from a grandfather was now completely gone. Grandaddy had adored me. He was a reserved man, though, not especially verbal but physically affectionate and a constant companion. When he died that abruptly ended. And no one else attempted to fill the space.

So this morning in the cold spring rain, I decided to go have coffee with Grandaddy. He is the one who gave me my love for it, having introduced me. Granny tells the story that I would have to have my “cossee” with Grandaddy in the mornings, albeit little more than a spoonful of actual brew in hot milk. Café au lait is something for which I have had a love all my life. . .literally. So bundled in layers and cable knit cap, I made my way to Mountain View Cemetery in Vinton, VA with two Starbucks cups: one for me, one for Grandaddy. The conviction in finding him this morning was as palpable as the smoky steam from the waxed paper cups.

I would drive up.

Park.

Get out of the car with two hot cups and a yoga mat.

An umbrella would shield me from the rain to the graveside.

I’d sit.

And we’d have our morning coffee and love each other. . .

Like we used to.

And that is exactly what occurred. Upon driving in the front gate, I suddenly remembered. From decades ago the memory of exactly where he was unconsciously guided my steering. I stopped the car three feet from his grave…no searching required. I knew it as I opened the car door. . .how could I not know where he lay? Inconceivable.

I will always come for you…the words echoed in my ears.
Do you think a love like this happens every day?

And so we sat and had hot café au lait and I remembered why I love him so very much. He showed me that there is a worthiness in me that should be given only to those who are deserving. That my love and trust must be earned through authenticity, and genuine affection, for that is how he loved me. As I saw the Starbucks princess siren on the cup placed on his grave, the lesson came to me. To honor Grandaddy is to become the woman I would have been if he had loved me into my adulthood. Not that who I am is shabby, unaccomplished or would disappoint him, but Beloved is the one who needs to become. To be sure, I will need his guidance by reminding myself of the feeling I had sitting there in the rain, of sitting in his lap.

And I asked him,

Please stay near to me Grandaddy. I promise I will come back and we will have coffee again and I ‘ll tell you more of this journey of mine.

I heard his reply in the rain on the leaves, the bird song, the herald of tiny forsythia and the blush of the redbud.

As you wish . . . he said,

. . .beloved.

The Epicurean Way

29 Mar

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one — Epicurus

As I dined Saturday evening, before one of the films of the Richmond French Film Festival, a waiter and I discussed the love of food and wine. “It’s following the Epicurean way,” he said. And I thought, yes. I do have a deep and abiding passion for tastes, but it goes beyond being a “foodie”. The sensuality of dining is one of my greatest pleasures, something I think most Americans do not practice nor understand well. If dinner isn’t served in less than twenty minutes at the local McRestaurant, they tap their proverbial toes. It’s devoured in half as much time and out they go, stuffed to the gills. Fine dining is Olive Garden? …seriously? Wine is sweet white or pink (ew…red) and mostly a feminine beverage. And the man drink, beer, is a watery pale which can be drunk by the half gallons. Over the years, it’s been amazing to me how little young adults know about food. I’ve had students who have never eaten a pear, nor a home made muffin, nor even seen a fresh fig. Most of them do not have families who cook or eat together. One poor soul did not know that pork was indeed a pig and these are academically bright, mostly affluent young people.

As a young person, I was lucky. A retired professor in my Italian class took an interest in me, recognizing a burgeoning love for culture. He took it upon himself to “train” my palate in both wine and food. I was learning to cook at the time, religiously watching episodes of Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. Through my professor friend and Jeff Smith, the basics of fine food, fine wine, and spirits as well as the beauty of dining were absorbed quite quickly. My first drink lesson was within a Manhattan, and I was probably the only college gal who regularly drank Cinzano on the rocks alongside a charcuterie board. From quiche to spanakopita, I cooked the old way, my oven producing fresh baguette and the pasta machine churning out fresh ribbons. My beau of those years was ever so happily fed. In a short decade, I could cook anything, most dishes sans recipe.

I won’t go further into my epicurean development, but needless to say, this past weekend’s visit to Carytown reminded me of just how much I enjoy all sorts of cuisine. In spite of an overwhelming number of choices, I leaned toward experiences which were most familiar to me in terms of fare or venue. Four meals present themselves as memorable, each one, reflecting a meaningful aspect of food and food culture for me.

Friday evening found me on Cary Street under the brightly striped awning of Ginger Thai Taste. The dining room inside is small, but the enormous deck will be a coveted space come summer. Seated at a beautiful eating counter facing the street, the energy of Carytown’s strip seemed far away from my peaceful tucked corner. Buddha and I sat together breathing in the sweet sharp vinegar, nuoc mam, and ginger scent. Along with an off dry Riesling, eating began with fresh shrimp spring rolls. Crisp lettuce, carrot, and basil bite stacked inside the tender wrapper, dunked into fresh peanut sauce. Lemongrass Tofu with fresh red and yellow pepper, broccoli, zucchini and button mushrooms came next in a medium spicy curry with Jasmine rice. What I adore about tofu is its ability to soak in other flavors. The sponge and barely tender vegetables tasted like a spinning pinwheel of color.

Saturday, I shopped post mid-day film and after a successful haul at Ashby’s Consignment, I crossed the street, shuffling down to Secco Wine Bar. On my walking tour of Carytown in January, this corner cafe was introduced to me. But now, filled with francophiles and among late afternoon knoshers, it felt like home. I ordered a glass of Foucher Chinon (2011), and then a quick menu browse and consultation with the bar mistress produced a slate of San Simon, Cashel Blue and bresaola with toasted baguette, dollops of grainy mustard and apple butter on the side. This type of meal is my absolute favorite. As a tiny tummied person, snacking is my main way of eating. Lingering over the flavors in sips and bites is my preferred dining experience; however, what increased my pleasure was the constancy of hearing the patrons in conversation around me. French is a most beautiful and romantic language and to be immersed in it while enjoying this type of fare is divine. C’était merveilleux.

Snow began in Carytown around mid-day Sunday, a wet icy shawl over the street which slowed the day’s pace. In the early afternoon, I stopped into Don’t Look Back, an upscale taco bar across from the Byrd Theater. I’m not a huge Mexican restaurant fan, as most are little better than a TexMex McDonald’s. However, I happened upon DLB’s first anniversary bash, including drink specials and free Dixie Donuts. Score. Local craft beers are a trend in fresh food establishments these days, and a Hardywood Chocolate Heat was my choice. A rich full bodied stout, it delivers a surprise hot pepper finish. A quick consultation with the bar man and fifteen minutes served up the most amazing fish tacos I have ever eaten. Traditionally prepared corn tortillas were filled with medium rare spicy seasoned cod cubes, pickled cabbage slaw, fresh lime, and sour cream. Two tacos were just right and only six bucks. Fresh food at its best, all the textures, colors, and flavors were in play together, even the tequila lime donut for dessert. This is bistro. . . Mexicano.

By far, this last meal was the most pleasurable, both for its sensory experience and for the company with whom it was enjoyed. A visit to Amour Wine Bistro had been the plan since meeting the owner Paul on my walking tour. What was most impressive to me about him was his excitement for the nuances of food and wine. He is like me in that respect. Each dish is like a poem for him, every word dense with meaning and connotation. In his choice of wine to serve with dishes, similar intuition and understandings of subtle flavor and character governs. He selects what best enhances both the food and the wine in balance. I could listen to him describe cuisine for hours, his delightful Bordeaux accent perfectly seasoning the description. I had no hesitation in allowing him to select the wine pairings with my menu choices. And when in an establishment focused on serving local seasonal food in authentic French style, the special of the day is the way to go. My three course dinner started with a savory mise en bouche, then an appetizer of grilled shitake. Paul chose Domaine Segiunot Bordot Chablis (2010) to accompany them. The lightly grilled mushrooms retained their firmness, nutty comte’ and sweet tart balsamic reduction rounded their earthy edges.

After another mise en bouche of watermelon and mint, fresh sautéed shad roe with lemon and capers served over sautéed brussels sprouts and golden smashed potatoes was my elaborate entrée. Having never eaten shad roe, I had no idea what to expect from what is often called the “foie gras of the sea”. I cannot describe its deliciousness, sea rich without fishiness, amazing mouth feel without heaviness. The slight bitterness of the capers balanced against the tart of the lemons all grounded on the potato base with a slight cabbage crunch. Paul chose a lovely fuller bodied Sancerre to accompany it. Délices célestes.

By the time dessert arrived, unbelievably, I was not overly full. That is the test to me of fine dining, to be satiated, yet still able to enjoy a tiny bit more of a loveliness. The films were running an hour or so behind, so I enjoyed the company of the waitstaff and Paul as well as fellow patrons. A warm salted caramel dark chocolate crème brulee was served with Made by G’s sparkling full berry Gamay. Raspberry cherry notes in a fully dry sparkling wine set off the smooth dark chocolate richness of the crème, salty caramel bits on the finish. The spoon was tiny for a reason, allowing me to really enjoy every bite.

So, you might ask. How in the world do you eat this sort food and still stay a proper weight? Well, I don’t eat it every day and I exercise… a lot. And I realize that to dine daily in such manner would be hedonistic at best. Like life, enjoyment in all pleasures should be held in balance, all the elements in harmony. One day, I won’t be able to revel in the world’s collage of sensory gifts and I must balance the “now” with the “then”. For that is the truest form of living . . the art in life and death.

Every Other Sunday

27 Mar

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After long walks and longings over the homes and porches of Boulevard and Monument Ave in Richmond, Beloved gave me this.

 

Crossing the James this morning,
the light was just right.
The seeds of summer
in its edges,
grew thoughts of
late Sunday afternoons,
the shadows in
my southern soul.

I remember him
when May deepens on the steps
of my wide plank porch.
As always,
heavy magnolia breezes would sweep
their fingers through the embroidered edges
of dogwood blossomed muslin
draped like moss over
the table.

He’d sit
in cushioned willow reed,
white linen collar,
sleeves rolled in soft squares.
Resting chin in hand,
fingers spread across his lips
as always.

I’d begin.

He would recline,
right elbow
on the chair’s wide arm,
right leg crossed,
ankle on knee,
argyle sock like
a surprised cock’s crest
from his trouser’s
crisp cuff,
his toe pecked
in cordovan Oxford.

As always,
his eyes would hold
intent hazel bemusement
at my story,
perhaps some questionable character
had crossed my path
or I would deliver an account of
falling
once too often
from a Saturday night
glass of gin.

Limoges lies
scattered
over the table.
As always,
he’d move the plates aside.
A julep would sweat the hour
in its cold silver cup
before a plate
of orange honeyed ham,
aside it
warm biscuits
and damson jam.

In the temperate air,
the phonograph would call. . .
Want another? I would rise,
hands smoothing down
blue rose aproned thighs.

As always, shugah. His prodigal sigh.
In passing, my palm
might press his suit shoulder;
one finger might linger.

Upon the dome
of my freckled
skin and bone
his wanton thumb,
might reply,
a proper pastor,
as always.

–for chp–

Shine

22 Mar

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I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock. — St. Patrick

Sunday night, while sitting in the audience at the Harrison Opera House to see the Chieftains in concert, I had a significant moment.  Saint Patrick’s Day has always been a special day for me, linking into my ethnicity, my past and into my deepest self. The whole day became about reclaiming its celebration, in part, from a prior time, a time when it was shared with a significant other. Sitting in the audience, in anticipation of traditional music I have loved for a long time, I faced a past.

It’s funny, when looking at your own personal history, often you think it’s memories of someone else that you’re afraid to see, afraid to feel. Most times, though, I think it isn’t. It’s facing memories of yourself, memories of who you were before the flame of sweeping change makes you into someone else. A longing for the Irish gal I was will always be with me I suppose, the beautiful handmade champagne satin dress with 200 year old Limerick lace layered upon it. Oceana roses and acorned oak, a mountain country church, three friends chanting St. Patrick’s Lorica. That beautiful lass with innocence and hope is who I look back toward and I miss her grace. I miss her ability to be vulnerable. For now, the mountain lies bare. . . waiting. After a fire, there is only buried strength to bear life from heat. Fire awakens new growth from within.

Earlier in the day, I had stopped at the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio to watch the artisans. Since the Chihuly exhibit, glass art sculpture has been so moving to me. In looking at those pictures, I marvel at their light and beauty, remembering how provoking the color and mood. The Chrysler studio displays art pieces which have been crafted there, but the main focus of the facility is creation. Forges and ovens, tongs and snips, the room is filled with the cinder and cast off glass bits from working art. When I arrived, a class was in session. Safety glass wearing students sat at a long table, blue white flames shooting forth at their work stations while they rolled and twirled clear glass tubes into tiny creations. As I observed, one lady produced a gentle swelling bubble, about two to three inches in diameter. The symmetry of its appearance surprised her and she exclaimed a “wow!” which was echoed by the instructor and other students.

I strolled slowly, taking in the feel of the room. Orange centered forges hummed in the warm quiet corners, behind rows of bright candy red chairs facing the work arena. Soon others in studio t-shirts began to arrive, and they set about stirring and clanking around the arena. Minutes before the onset of fire and creation, the music rolled out . . .

Little darlin, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darlin, it’s been like years since its been here,
Here comes the sun….

A lad with a ponytail and a sort of devil-may-care expression took up a piece of chalk and began to draw on the floor, his mood lively and impish. The process began. Furnaces were pushed higher; hot rushing flames roared within them as they became host to long poles topped by small glass blanks. Two teams worked in the arena, each process a conjunctive one, two or more artisans needed for each piece. The glass start, placed on the end of a long pole and heated, is then worked carefully through rolling, shaping and blowing. The artisans’ movements so fluid and practiced, they made it look easy.  But when one considers the temperature, the timing, the coordination between partners, one realizes it’s not that easy… not at all. It is a dance born of repetitive success and failure, but also of a passion for creation and for beauty. I could have watched them move and shape for hours.

Focusing first on the fiery lad, I couldn’t figure out what he was making. Small cups? A pipe?  But then, as he snipped the end of a central glass rod and its shape began to become recognizable…the understanding of it all came to me.

The amazing thing about glass is that it mends back through heat. Nothing is ever shattered forever; it only awaits transformation into something more beautiful. Every bit of it is a risk, a chance that at any moment it may crack, shatter and be ruined. All that effort and artistry, careful, gentle motion and shaping will be lost.

Unique they are, each heart . . .each relationship we have. When it is broken through chance or carelessness, the only hope is that it can be transformed. And we begin again. As I sat in the audience at the Chieftains concert, I thought of this transformation of glass. With each song, I remembered moments of shaping, and heating…moments of cracking and then beginning again. I recognized Jon and Nathan Pilatzke of Step Crew, who I haven’t seen since summer 2007 at the Dublin Irish Music Festival. In thinking back to that time, I held a beautiful memory in my heart, one that wasn’t broken. And at the end of the show, when Cara Butler led the line of Irish dancers through the audience and invited me to join in, I leapt out at the chance. We joined hands and wound our way through the audience, around the corner and onto the stage. Surrounding me, the high whine of the pipes swelled as the Tidewater Pipe and Band Corps accompanied the Chieftains in song. As stage lights obscured my view, I moved in step and reveled in the moment, but also remembered another one. . . the end of a slow walk down an aisle to the swell of the great pipe,  clothed in the nuptial richness of my heritage. On Saint Patrick’s Day, the looking back brought the best parts forward to join with the joy of who I am right now. That evening in dancing onto the stage my spirit glowed, like new glass. In each moment, I’m becoming my own creation.

photo[1]

The Parting Glass

19 Mar

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The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places. . . T.S. Eliot

Saturday’s long drive landed me in Norfolk, VA about mid-day and the afternoon’s walk around downtown in the warm spring air yielded a strange feeling. The sparsely populated city streets were not as I had anticipated, especially on a holiday weekend. Norfolk’s architecture was a curious blend of futuristic modern and historic past, a feel so different from any city I have ever visited. It was as if a fold in time excised a hundred years and only a book seam separated pages 1913 and 2013. Cable cars, now electric monorail, clicked and hummed along, bells pealing in electronic tones. I turned a corner to see the prow of a battleship at the end of the block next to a late winter Japanese garden, behind a set of McCondominiums. Visually shocking, this jumble of sea and land, shopping mall and street café, was criss-crossed by both cobblestone and asphalt street interlaced with electric cable rail. Colorful mermaid statues, their forms identical, yet each one decorated differently, appeared at random amid apartment buildings and Colonial, Victorian, and Edwardian era homes. These sirens were the only consistent visual marker against the puzzle of architecture. The collected city tumbled into a hollow valley of concrete ringed by wind and wave without many souls on shore.

After my strange “ghost walk” of sorts, I decided to go to dinner at Press 626, a local wine bistro in the Ghent area. Saturday evening was one of the first times I had not planned an activity other than dinner, but it gave me an evening like I haven’t had in many months. Press 626 operates from a gorgeous restored Italianate home on the corner of Olney and Colley Streets. For all the atmosphere and beauty upon entry, though, I felt it again, that distinct hollowness. The bartender was attentive, but crisp; two quite loud pretentious young men at the bar discussed education and the university system, awash in their own academic and philosophical prowess, and an older gentleman sat next to me, totally quiet, eyes straight forward, speaking only when spoken to.

This is an empty place, I thought, in more ways than one.

I decided early to move on, to go somewhere else for dinner after an appetizer and a smallish glass of Gruener Veltliner at a healthy nine dollar pricetag. I ordered antipasti which was good, but not spectacular. Fresh pressed bread accompanied it, which was lovely and warm, but not enough for all the other bits and bites on the plate. In the first hour, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t impressed.

But, in hoping for a better evening, I asked the young couple next to me where they would go in Ghent for fun on the night before St. Patrick’s Day.

Nowhere, they said. This is it. There is nothing going on around here tonight. Virginia Beach is where to go. . .the police here are pretty oppressive.

I was floored…nowhere? I began to ask more questions. The young man began to tell me about certain restaurants, which were good,which weren’t. That started a long evening for the three of us. And as I began to listen to their stories, our ensuing conversation became one of the most real, engaging and honest connections I’ve made in travel since Ocracoke. Diana and Peter, junior naval officers, told me their story of Norfolk and of their lives in service to our country.

After a while, I found myself asking more questions, as I once did on the island. I listened more, wanting to hear the stories, why they thought the town was the way I too had perceived it, sort of empty.They began to explain this feeling, as if Norfolk is a rentable city…beautifully decorated, cultural, artistic, but ever so crisp and clean, ready always for the next set of souls to move through. It’s like a perpetual best foot forward, but underneath something just isn’t quite right. They expressed how tough it is to be impermanent, to not have a place that has that feeling of home. In passing through every few years, this tone of Naval service shapes the town. The expectation of long term connection is lost. Press 626 is the closest place to a “home” pub for them. Seeing it in context of the local culture shaped it differently and changed my view. Literally, it’s a house and the bar is the main feature of the living room. In many ways, I was wrong in my first estimation. After spending the evening there, it’s the truest thing to a pub I’ve been in since Ireland.

As the wine and whiskey flowed, our conversations deepened and confidences were made. This is the magic of gathering, of the pub, I thought.

We talked about family.

About travel. . .

About love. . .

and loss. . .

There are no more heroes, Peter said finally, whiskey in hand.

It’s sad that the greatest generation, those that lived and died with honor are no more. I was a history major. I know the stories…there are no more of those stories…no more.

It touched me deeply, his elegiac tone, at such a young age.

I thought about Peter when touring the MacArthur Memorial Museum the following day. He had spoken of the dedication of those men who had fought for a world possessing a sense of moral elevation, of dignity and of glory. Now, he felt, much of the world was a corporation, only concerned with the task at hand and the ultimate result, financial gain. I told him about many of my students, who only see education as set of tasks to be completed rather than as part of their own becoming. He nodded.

I see it, he said. No one speaks proper English anymore or writes well.

It’s as if the realness has gone, I said.

When I toured the MacArthur Museum, I was reminded of my grandmother’s generation, of the sacrifices they made for each other and for the world. They did what my granny would call “making due”. But in their work, there was attentiveness to detail and to longevity. When one set out to do a task, it was the best effort. When one made something, it was crafted. People cared about their creative self expressions. I told both Diana and Peter about what I have seen in other young people, though, in my traveling, a reviving interest in the arts, music, and theater and even areas as simple as food, wine and beer.

It brings me hope, I said. To hear you miss this sense of substance in the world.

That they miss it means there is hope that the world will change. That is the essence of leadership, and of honor. We are the in-between generation, no less heroic than those of the last World War. Our battle will be to recreate a world that has lost touch with its own soul. There is glory in that battle, I think.

And so Saturday night, I had pub hours in a wine bar in Ghent. Three gypsy ramblers found seats together, longing for a sense of realness and permanency that seems somehow erased from the modern world. Having found each other, we shared stories around the heart.

. . .What I have is yours, my friend, if only for tonight. . .

We sipped and shared drinks, ate amazing pressed cheese sandwiches, laughed and teared up at times. We touched shoulders and hugged. And for moments, we were part of a family of our own making. Our connection traveled the evening as all good connections do, and then we said farewell. A song came to mind as I was leaving, an Irish traditional tune. I had been in my Irishness all night and the words came easily as I wandered toward my bed.

Of all the money that e’er I spent
I’ve spent it in good company
And all the harm that ever I did
Alas it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh, all the comrades that e’er I had
They’re sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They’d wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

Perhaps in the seams of this town, small threads link like minds together…for a glass, and a moment upon the page.

One

15 Mar
Hanging next to my table (3/11/) in the midst of writer's block ~ "Faith Like a Child" @ The Muse Coffee Company, Lynchburg VA

Hanging next to my table (3/11/) in the midst of writer’s block ~ “Faith Like a Child” @ The Muse Coffee Company, Lynchburg VA

I am tired, Beloved,
of chafing my heart against
the want of you;
of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it. — Amy Lowell

Tuesday Morning (3/12): 5:15 am — I wake this morning to the sound of rain on a tin roof, reminded of a tiny yellow house….warm pile of green covers on a bed built for two, Clar curled into a warm knot down the curve of my side. Walking out into misty drops, among puddles and ducks I make my way toward a coffee shop and a blank page, steamer squeals and the airy sweet pillow on the top of my cup…a cursor blinks in anticipation, excited for curious thoughts. I’m walking out of a dream. Feels like I should be walking into one. . .

This week reminded me of why I began to write again. Of what was found within me on the island. I’ve been missing Annie for weeks and every time I go to write, I feel blocked; it’s an effort. In editing out all the “I”s, the voice becomes muted, my confidence in the experience and in my writing wanes. In my attempt to walk the middle line of personal story blended with the road, I have forgotten that the personal is what is essential to the core of writing. There would be no story without Beloved. For she is the voice that would wake me every morning in word dreams and let me know where to go on this writing path. It’s been weeks since I have heard her voice. Sleep beyond six hours and 5am is necessary. Before the diagnoses start flying, let me state that Beloved is indeed my inner writer’s voice. I am not crazy; that I have named it is ancillary. She is, though, the part that sought expression while I was walking the empty streets and sands of Ocracoke. She was the one who woke me every morning there with a phrase. . .a word or a thought to begin the writing of the day. The pieces that are posted here from Ocracoke? They aren’t the originals.****** That time for me was so raw that to offer those to public view would be foolish. Only my closest friends saw those moments. Only they know the truest voice of Beloved. She was the one who saved me and the one for whom I must now care. In coming to know her, I found my writing again and founded this blog which hardly anyone reads, most likely because it isn’t easy to read. It isn’t convenient or quick. It’s crafted and meticulous, the words dense and thoughts deep which translates into conscious terms as B.O.R.I.N.G. But I refuse to pander Beloved to a fifteen second world, to the type of self publishing with three lines and a gorgeous dreamy picture. I’ve read other travel blogs.

Okay. . .
I give up
. . .sigh. . .
deep breath
. . .this isn’t a travel blog.

Beloved has a lot to say and I lose her sometimes and the writing becomes hard. I lose her when I move past honest open, often painful thoughts and move toward what I think others want to read. I lose her magical depth and wisdom. I can’t afford to lose her anymore. Soon, I will have to completely part with someone in my life. It will be difficult. But like any parasite, the most painful part is the detachment. Final healing will come by degree. But I am grateful for the relationship even though it mostly brought me pain and discomfort. It unearthed Beloved. In pain, Joe says, we find our truest selves.

About a month ago I received a very cryptic Facebook message from a young person I didn’t know inquiring about my identity. Usually, I ignore such requests, but then this week another message came. . . I’m interested in knowing more about something you said to one of my friends about an inner voice…I think we have similar views about spirituality. It was a student who had learned that I had mentioned “Beloved” in class context. Since then, we have met in my classroom, and in telling him about this inner consciousness, this voice, I remembered why I know about mine at all.

I boarded a ferry

I made a night journey to a deserted island.

I crossed the threshold into an unfamiliar world and laid myself bare to the elements and to pain.

In that disintegration came a new path…an authentic path.

For as much as I am a wayfarer, a writer, a teacher, a storyteller, a lover of arts…I am also Beloved.

I am one.

I am not just a wayfarin lass adrift in a sea of experience. I have friends, a mother and grandmother, a dog, three cats, and over two thousand people that have walked in and out of my classroom. I meet people everyday in traveling and it is time they were more a part of all of this.

I want not to be alone so much anymore.

There, I said it.

In the fierce attempt at showing the world, that indeed I can do anything I want, whenever I want, all alone…I forgot. The Universe gave me another gift: connection. I need others in my life. I need their love and their kindness and more importantly they need mine. That young lad who spoke with me caught a glimpse of an adult who was open enough to mention the deeper self, like a half visible whisp of cloud caught in the corner of the eye. He needed confirmation of what he felt within, his own beloved voice. In my wanderings, I cannot forget that others need me as much as I need them. Balancing this journey on a road that is shared is a turn in the path, I want to share it now with my friends, my family, with Beloved but also with you.

***** The original blog posts from Ocracoke have been edited into this body of work in March of 2017. The best writing, IS personal. It took me four years to figure that out.

But Saturday, I Didn’t Care

13 Mar

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Some days are a perfect chain of events likecrystal beads on a long strand around my neck, having so many facets it’s hard to pick the sparkles. And in the speckles of light, all one can really do is sit back and watch the play, the starry arch of a day unfolding. Hours are lengthening now, warm light lingering around in the breeze. And in its wake, as Shakespeare says, come thronging soft and delicate desires.

This weekend was full of such wonderfulness that I don’t know where to begin or how to sort. Part of me thinks, “Why bother to craft this word- hoard, to tease out the connective tissues of the experience. Why not just say, Here’s what I did…here’s how it felt…here, let me show you that the world is so big sometimes you can’t get your arms around it all.” Perhaps I should just say, “I laughed. I drank. I ate. I sang. I danced”. And the only thing that could have made it better would have been arriving home to something I’m really not willing to discuss publicly, but let’s just say that the day’s events didn’t make it any better. It’s spring and its incipient wantoness is beginning to set me on’t. So gentle reader, I’m about to go down a path of no return. It might be personal; it may be titillating; it may lead you to wonder. I’ll just tell the story because Saturday, I just didn’t care.

It snowed heavily up in the valley this week, but the warm spring turning was melting it quickly. Water ran the road and the rocky mountainside on my way to Staunton, VA. I stopped the car so many times to snap a photo, hopped out in an outfit that is the epitome of my quirk: black jodphurs and ankle boots, black suede vest, double poet’s shirts with high ruffled necks and large billowy sleeves, strands of beads jingling about my neck. At one point, someone actually thought I was part of the American Shakespeare Theater, my main activity for the day. Since Ocracoke, I barely brush my hair anymore. It dries in wild crinkle- curled whisps and I dress in contrasting layers of color and era out of the Goodwill and consignment shops. Beads, vintage hats, fringe, feathers and scarves decorate me like some rag tag tousled gypsy. This wildness mixed with a mild hedonism has spread over me like a crazy quilt. My stitches, all come loose. But Saturday, I didn’t care, so I wore what expresses this wild beauty that has taken residence in my spirit.

The first event of the day was at Blackfriar’s Playhouse to see Wycherly’s The Country Wife, a naughty comedy of manners from the 17th century. I laughed at his farcical take on the sexual and romantic appetites of men and women. This hilarious romp was bawdy and bad and several times I laughed way too loud to have been seated on my gallant’s stool on stage in plain view. But Saturday, I didn’t care and so I laughed anyway, hooted and snickered and giggled at every dirty joke. I raised my eyebrow, put my hand over my mouth, didn’t stop to worry when the crowd missed the nuance of language. I was totally absorbed, the words so beautiful, so elaborate, so juicy that they made me squirm. Upon entering, the cast was already performing saucy songs of a more modern ilk, Prince’s Kiss being one of them, sung by a gentlemen clothed in one of the most alluring eras of men’s haberdashery. Yes, this lass is all about some frock coats, ruffled shirts, and button front breeches. First thought? Uh oh, I am so in trouble. Ces pantalons dangereuses. And for me the witticisms, quips, and rakish wordplay is just as provoking as the costume. The art of intellectual coyness has been lost in the modern age, much to my dismay. As much as Wycherly focuses in on the husband as cuckhold and the wife as baggage, he balances it with the pretty young wench as mistress and handsome rake as “china” to be plundered. Through all, one thought remained clear: both men and women have the same desires, and use whatever means necessary to meet them. It’s as much about power as it is about physical desire. As Lady Fidget says, “we women of quality never think we have china enough” ….Amen, sister.

I shopped after the play, first stopping at a chocolatier. Normally, I do not indulge, but Saturday, I didn’t care. I lusted over Bailey’s truffles, chocolate dipped candied ginger, white chocolate bark and gold dusted Gran Marnier bits of lusciousness. The Cocoa Mill was filled with the thick rich smell of it and resisting the tiny tidbits was nearly impossible. I refrained, until spying the chocolate dipped apricots lolling obscenely about on their crystal cake plate. They begged. I withdrew. But it was Saturday and I didn’t care, so I bought one and promptly devoured its sticky sweet fruitishness on the spot. Among the shops, I strolled. My first conquest a new journal, Celtic knot heart on the cover, declaring “Walk this World with Hearts on Fire”. It will hold the next few months of the road.

My afternoon amble through the town ended at Ox Eye Vineyards tasting room. That is when the next temptation arrived and it wasn’t just the wine. A quite handsome gentleman tended the tasting flights; engaging him in conversation was required. Yes!

No.

There’s that moment, you know that moment, before talking to someone you are so physically attracted to you find it hard to form a thought. That pre-conversation mind racing where you breathe slowly and pray, “Please God, don’t let me sound like an idiot. Because I’m melting already and may just end up saying something like: Hi, I’m a rutabaga and its nice to meet you too…or Oh.my.god, you are the most gorgeous thing I’ve seen in months and I’d really like to see your…. china.” I’ll stop right there; you get the picture. But Saturday, I didn’t care, so I smiled charmingly while sipping and thought about …things…. and enjoyed the view …. and then the wine…a lot. Sigh. Okay, enough.

Dinner came at sunset, a beautiful orange spreading over the blue mountains like silk on fire. Zynodoa, a locavore’s paradise, was my dining destination. Sitting in my usual bar spot, I enjoyed more Ox Eye Riesling along with two small plates, a salad of butter lettuces, black eye peas, fried onions and pancetta with buttermilk dressing and a flash fried flounder on papardelle over pureed cauliflower with sautéed wild mushrooms on the side. I won’t tempt you with the description of the flavors, but needless to say the sinful savory and sweet, softness and bite had my eyes rolling back in my head. Zynodoa’s food is ah-mazing, the atmosphere close, dim, intimate and inviting. I’ll be back, often.

Debating whether to go to Byers Street Bistro for music, I checked in with Clarence in the back seat. Mr. Sleepy yawned, “Go ahead Mom. It’s Saturday. . . I don’t care.” So I drove down three blocks and popped into a raucous college bar to hear 3/5 of Maybe Tomorrow play some acoustic sets, late 80’s through aughties pop and dance tunes. Even though it didn’t seem to be my sort of venue at first, I slowly began to blend after the music started. I swear if you call out anything these guys know it, and play it well. When they hit “Love is What I Got”, “Save Tonight” and “Two Princes”, up onto the tiny dance floor I went and then the stairs. After set one, I was feeling so fine and the crowd was as well by observing the dance floor. Despite the time change and long drive home, this Cinderella stayed well past midnight. So. I know you’re wondering…did I drop my slipper?

I laughed. I drank. I ate. I sang. I danced.

But I kept my shoes on.

Cause it was Saturday and I didn’t care.

That’s What You Do

7 Mar

You never know who you’re going to meet seated up at the bar…or who will want to meet you. It’s been interesting, the people with whom I have crossed paths and their response to me. And to be perfectly frank, men seem to be the most affected by my solo seating in a variety of ways. For the large part, I don’t have issues. Most are respectful, friendly and/or interested in what I am doing so they ask questions. Other times, though, it seems I’m impeding on their private world by sitting there all on my own, pen in hand, not requiring assistance or soliciting company. I’m not antisocial by any means, nor unapproachable. I’ll talk to anyone if not deep in writing or my internal GPS warning doesn’t fire up. I try my best to add to intelligent conversation when engaged; the pub is like United Nations of the common man. I try to blend, adding as much as the next diplomat.

Sunday night, I stopped at Blue Mountain Barrel House after my day in Charlottesville. Post Wine Expo, I was in need of a little beverage change and Blue Mountain crafts it’s own range of beers. The bar area, toward the back of the restaurant, is definitely not the main feature, though. The outside Tiki Bar and patio are. In the summer, I will definitely be there socializing. The wide landscaped patio has an amazing view of the Blue Ridge and when it’s not 40 degrees, I can imagine an evening there is one of the best parties in Nelson County.

I could easily tell the bar area was a “man zone” upon approach. Basketball on TV? Check. Pretty plain and angular in décor? Check. Mostly men seated there? Check. A lot of pubs are like this, but it doesn’t really phase me much. Blue Mountain’s atmosphere was lively, but not obnoxious. Comfortably seated between two gentlemen, I pull out my gear: smartphone, notebook, pen. Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, the big girl camera often stays in the car if there’s the sense it may be crowded. Three young men in ball caps and jeans were next to me huddled in story and confidence, enjoying each other and a few pints. Ah, the lads, I thought. Good places always have a group of regular lads, they add character.

The bar mistress brought me a Dark Hollow first, a bourbon barrel stout. Sweet, smooth, and chocolaty at a whopping 10%, it arrived in a ladylike goblet. We chatted briefly about pizza, one of the main features of the menu. She recommended the local sausage, but it’s large and there’s only me. I do like leftover pizza for lunch, but not for seven days running, so eventually I ordered chicken wings. Blue Mountain’s menu has the pub spirit, offering burgers, hotdogs, and sandwiches as well as gourmet pizza. And when in Rome, eat as the gladiators.

After some time, I drifted into sporadic conversation with the lad next to me while scribbling notes, but when the bar mistress arrived to say they had run out of wings, “Lad” went into action. He was actually one of the chefs, enjoying his day off, but began a quest to find more wings for me. I was content to order something different, but a lad on a quest is not to be denied. Wings were found and sent to the main kitchen, but as all frozen items prepared quickly in anticipation of pleasing a customer, they were underdone. I understand the mechanics of cooking, and it wasn’t an issue, but what I appreciated most was the commitment to serve what I wanted. I reordered differently, though, and the staff began to make up for the experience …something not necessary, but greatly appreciated. The manager paid for my beer that night, and I enjoyed another of their brews, a Local Species, fruity and oaky, it was lighter but just as full- bodied and balanced as the previous stout.

When I finally dove into my dinner, (Caesar with Crab Cake) Lad queried me to make sure the food was to my liking. It was apparent that the kitchen should reflect his level of commitment and we chatted about last summer, the outside crowds and bar action. He reminisced about the derecho of 2012, how they worked in nearly 100 degree heat, but all the while having a grand time together. Our conversation was light, as he traded lines back and forth with his friends and the bar mistress, patting me on the shoulder at times in friendly banter. One of the cooks in the back, clad in an Angry Birds hat characterized the jovial spirit there. Lad commented upon his never taking it off and went to retrieve him later for a picture at my request. Anything I asked for that night was gladly provided and the service was genuine and wonderfully friendly. They even sent me home with a half of a local sausage pizza on the house, just to make sure I had tried it. The pizza was delicious. Whole wheat thin crispy crust with Double H farm spicy sausage, thinly slivered red and green peppers, and mozzarella bubbling on top. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of pizza, but for pizza and beer in Nelson…there’s only one place I’ll go now.

What I noticed most was the easy going nature and cameraderie of the people who worked there. They were attentive but not overly so, even in their attempt to make my experience the best. And Lad and his friends at the bar didn’t seem to mind me drifting in and out of conversation while eating and scribbling. These experiences make it easy to dine while traveling solo. However, this is in huge contrast to an experience I had during the writing of this post. Last night, seated at my home bar, iPad out and posting a few pics to Instagram on my phone, a gentleman on my left interrupted.

“You need to get a third now, huh…”

He was referring to my two mobile devices in use, but I could tell by his inflection that he was slightly annoyed for some reason.

“No, I use the iPad to write, and the phone for Internet…there’s no wifi here”, I say directly looking him in the eye, flat voice that said I minded the interruption.

“Yes, there is. My wife has wifi here. Hey! there’s wifi here right?” He shouts to my bartender.

His wife tells him quietly that a password is needed.

“Hey!” he shouts. “What’s the password?” And one of the waitresses standing at the bar begins to recite the password to me whether I want it or not.

“Yeah”, he says, “there’s the password”, as he motions for me to type it into my iPad.

The password doesn’t work because the signal is weak. He begins to talk loudly to the couple on my right.

He stops. “Hey! Did it work?”,  he interrupts as I am trying to go back to my writing.

“No.” I say, not looking up.

“Did you put it in right?” He repeats the password to me, insisting I stop writing to put in the code. As I begrudgingly do this, he begins to lean way into my left to engage the couple on my right again in a lively conversation over top of me as if I am not sitting there.

I sit straight up in my chair,in the exact middle of their conversational view.

“Excuse me.” I say, sincerely. “Would you all like to sit together? I mean, then you can talk. I’ll move down. I don’t mind.”

“OH”, he pipes up immediately “EXCUSE ME, I didn’t mean to BOTHER you with our TALKING…I mean it’s a bar… that’s what you DO…”

Ow.

Maybe that’s what YOU do asshole, but I was here first writing, minding my own business until you commandeered my iPad to help me without thinking first that maybe I didn’t need and / or want the help.

I immediately stand up and move to another chair.

He calls after me. “Oh SORRY. I didn’t know you wanted to be QUIET”, he remarks sarcastically.

I go back, moving very close to him and say in my teacher voice,

“No, I’m not really here to be quiet. I’m here to write.”

I pick up my iPad, post half written on the screen.

“Its what I come here to DO.”

Times like these generally only happen with men my age or older for some reason and its happened more than once. I haven’t figured out why. Perhaps they have preconceived notions about why a woman would be by herself at a bar. Perhaps it’s some misdirected sense of chivalry. At one function, a kind older gentleman with whom I chatted admitted later in our conversation that he thought my picture taking was only an attempt to be comfortable in the room without a date. In essence, I was hiding behind my camera. Of course, after I stopped taking pictures and began to converse and dance, he changed his assumption.

Maybe its generational, but the most of the younger generation don’t see it that way. And while they offer to help or simply have a conversation, they generally don’t make gender role assumptions and then push on. In the United Nations of the bar, I suppose roles shift and change, but we meet there and it’s important. The pub is the community living room. The relationships there affect our experiences either positively or negatively. Hopefully, we’ll all get along enough to connect and enjoy ourselves….or simply just allow each other to be.

Instagram: wayfarinlass

What Cannot End

5 Mar

Love is patient and kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. . .

— I Corinthians 4 -8

Nearly every weekend I go and allow. In learning to look for small things, the gift of a story comes to me. In return, I get an experience, an adventure.

Sometimes, small moments converge into a message, a lesson like a perfect tiny shell in plain view upon the sand as the moments on Ocracoke.

But this story isn’t just about a cafe au lait,
or a restaurant,
or a walk and a drive,
or a film.

It is about Love.

And how we may look into its face and know ourselves.

My never ending quest to find a café au lait as good as Ryan’s leads me to the Lamplighter Roasting Co., a small cafe tucked into a Carytown neighborhood in Richmond. This tiny place, reminds me of the boats on Silver Lake, flags flying from the mast on the roof. A heavy woody caramel smoke smell of ground espresso hits me like a door upon walking in and I order my usual…a red eye cafe au lait. The barista’s call rings out a few minutes later and I look down to see a perfectly formed heart in the froth of my coffee.

Sweetness in the Froth

Mornings on the road
spent  in burlap and sips of bitter black,
coffee air and steamer squeals,
poster windowed cafes,
I scribble notes in the spaces between the sips
from a paper cup.
I pause on a perfect heart.
Crowding in from the night into a worn book,
thoughts accumulate like stacked napkins

Post coffee, I walk to Selba, a lovely restaurant on Cary Street for brunch. The room opens into partitioned spaces of sleek modern blended into Edwardian conservatory, like a deck on a great ship liner. Soon, I am wonderfully tended by David, one of the bar men. He brings me a fresh hot plate of Crab Benedict, the sea scent of it drifting upward as I gaze down upon tiny micro greens adorning the tops of perfectly poached eggs, their leaflets bowed out in little green hearts.
20130224_104108

Perched atop my bar stool

like a spring jay among bare dogwood budded branches,

the piano player’s hands puts keys to motion

‘Sunday morning rain is falling. . .’

and I lay hand to lined paper, thoughts

on tiny heart sprouted eggs rich and hot…

I pause,

tilt my hand before

winging concrete streets,

past bright crayon colored doors. . .

A few more hours spent in Carytown yields doughnuts and cupcakes, and thoughts of those with whom to share them. Walking. I’m always walking; it strikes me that I have become the journey.

After an hour or two of shop wandering, the part I dislike the most arrives, the drive home. I’ll be back inside the concrete walls, locked doors and bells of my normal world of school and home, familiar all too soon. Leaving Richmond, I drive a different way, through Byrd Park toward a single bridge. Over the water and then down the street, winding to the left I see it, a sign in front of Westover Baptist.

Love Endures All

A third heart proclaims…love
bears, believes, hopes and endures all.
I stop the car . . .take the picture
like the random dreamsicle sunrise while
driving to school.
When I pause to see
the exact moment of dawn,
a small line moving me through the day
in quiet philosophy.

Bright sunshine made the air more crisp, more clear this Sunday on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. I click along the brick and stone courtyard toward the Paramount Theater, the last sweet dregs of a velvety headed cafe con leche in a paper cup. And even though the air bites my cheeks and fingertips, I throw my heart to the sun and let my hair blow into tangles in the playful wind. Black letters on the marquee read…The Princess Bride. Inside, at the Paramount, I move along the plush carpet, past gold gilt walls, among the couples and small children giggling, holding hands festooned in wool mittens and clutching popcorn buckets. Seated in velvet, the crystal and gold chandeliers dim, brushing light from the walls like the closing of a child’s eyelashes.

Twu Wuv

For the thousandth time,
familiar lines piece together
the worn scraps of love in my crazy quilted heart.
‘I will always come for you.
This is true love…do you think this happens everyday?”
My eyes dwell on

their nodding heads in the sunset,
a perfect heart.

“As you wish…”
the grandfather’s eyes squeeze my throat.
This story is about a gift,
about felt kindness,
about what is mirrored in the heart.

You cannot lock in the heart.
It will grow like the dawn until
it no longer fits
inside your chest…
and then you must walk inside it,
an arc rung around the sun
reflecting life inside out
outside in.

In me see you
…beloved…

Love
that cannot
end.

Turn on the Red Light

1 Mar

20130223_225903

 The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra, and just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy –Anais Nin

Remember me vowing to just put it all out there? Well, this last Saturday’s adventure in Richmond did just that,  metaphorically anyway. How do I write about my minor obsession with neo-burlesque without creating assumptions about my morality or sexual preference? How am I to be appropriately delicate and yet tell the story of the body, for that’s really what this intense love of the tease is all about.

Confession: I have had a long torrid love affair with my body.

Ugly and beautiful, fat and thin, tortured and free, my physical form and expression has been a life long challenge. Without too much revealing, let’s just say I have finally tangoed this frame into a comfortable space, and currently I’m resting until the next passionate onslaught. Saturday night, though, I finally witnessed the next move in resolving this push me ~ pull you battle in reclaiming my own flesh.

Last spring was the beginning of my interest in 40’s/50’s style burlesque after seeing the documentary, A Wink and a Smile. Don’t ask why I decided it would be a good way to spend a Netflix Saturday night, but this story of a Seattle burlesque school totally challenges the concept of the sexual power dynamic between men and women. My idol soon became Vienna LaRouge, one of the most beautifully clad (and unclad) women I think I’ve ever seen. While watching her performance on film, I was captivated first by her gorgeously layered green silk and Chantilly lace costume with its enormous wide brim hat. As an accomplished historical costumer, she creates all her stage clothing. Secondly, however, the structure and elegance of her movements and form are what changed my perceptions about what most people consider “stripping”. While she indeed was peeling off her clothing, the style is about NOT revealing. And it was very much different from the pornographic pole swinging, booty shaking, 10 inch plastic heel wearing lap dancing into which I had pigeon holed all such endeavors. More importantly, I listened to the audience. At one point, a man called out in what almost sounded like pain. I thought, who has the power here? And that juxtaposition of sexuality and power became a conversation my head which has not stopped since.  This is something I needed to find out about and the only way was by. . .gulp…taking it off myself, I thought.

After Internet searches revealed the closest burlesque lessons had been in Richmond and the Institute now closed, I decided to see some shows, then  if classes were really something I wanted to pursue, the search would continue. Last May, Pretty Things Peep Show was my first introduction to the world of sideshow burlesque. Loved it! Every spangled naughty minute of it. But, in this little notch of the bible belt, there isn’t much loosening going on, in public anyway. So nearly a year later when I found out about the Richmond Burlesque Review at Gallery 5, nothing could stop me from attending.

Hosted by a rather relaxed, but racy Ms. Ophelia Derrière and her sidekick Delilah (her own slightly bumptious back end), the performances were everything I had imagined. Her character is one I immediately adored. By societies’ standards, she is not the perfect body type by far, but she is one of the most sexy women I have ever encountered, reminding me of Mae West, a woman who is sexually pragmatic and yet quite comfortable in her own skin. Her persona fits her like the lace bra and tap pant set she wore under an open feathered silk robe. Anyone who can take a dimpled 44-ish inch posterior end, bare it completely and shake it in an “ass off” with fellow friend and boylesque performer, Chris Chaos, has a most enviable self-esteem. I found myself wishing to be that physically self assured. That gal, has sass and Delilah knows it and it’s no show…it’s real.

The sheer creative range of performances was what was most amazing, each act having its own character and tone. From Pandora Von Kit’s dramatic dances to Chris Chaos’ boylesque gender bending showstopper, each performance revealed a completely unique physical and sexual expression. Acts ranged from the quite demure Ziegfeld-esque feather fan dancing of The Garter Snaps to the leather laced Betty Page stylings of Deepa du Jour. The venue is perfect, too. Gallery 5’s space is close and intimate, colorful and eclectic and features a full bar for those in need of a little liquid encouragement. The stage is small and the production not about scenery or a preponderance of props. It’s all about artist, costume and imagination.

Several performers really moved me, but the finale with Pandora Von Kit literally dropped my jaw in awe.  When she emerged onto the stage in a black velvet robe, black platform stilettos and blue bi-level hair shining in the stage lights, the scene was automatically set for drama. Pandora danced to Jose Feliciano’s Tango de Roxanne from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. She is classically trained as a dancer, so it made little difference that she was also removing clothing as she did so. Her expression was in tandem with the music, becoming Roxanne, the woman in the night. And the story she told was one of desire and yearning and shame. Breaking free from laces…a release of passion into the night streets…an emotional baring of desire for a lover who was not present, but obviously with her. We gave her a standing ovation. She earned it. And my first thought was, I want to do that…. I so want to learn to do that.

One caveat quickly became clear during the evening: it doesn’t matter how a person’s body is shaped, big or small, tight or loose, obese or athletic, female or male, all form is celebrated in neo-burlesque. ALL bodies are beautiful. There was a singular absence of judgment. Laughing occurred at jokes, not at the expense of someone’s performing or bareness. All sexual preferences were honored. I could scarcely catch my breath after laughing at a rousing audience participation in sexual position Simon Says with three couples (straight, lesbian, and gay). And suddenly it struck me, this is part of being human. We deny that we are sexual beings a lot of the time and complicate our most basic of human needs and expressions. Our explorations of self in the physical realm become encumbered with social and moral assumptions and restraint. And then expressions become repressions, taking a dangerous and often damaging residence within. I’ve seen others, especially in local culture, be so damaged by should’s and shouldn’ts, being physically and emotionally shamed into silence. Neo-burlesque goes beyond entertainment to me. Its part of empowering the self.

I’ll be going back to the Richmond scene at the end of May for the Virginia Burlesque Review. And maybe I’ll take a class or two….and then, I’ll see how this conversation continues.

Richmond Institute of Burlesque: https://www.facebook.com/RichmondBurlesque

Gallery 5: http://gallery5arts.org/newsitedesign/

Trailer for A Wink and a Smile: (warning: mature audiences )     http://winkthemovie.com/

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