Archive | April, 2013


30 Apr

Apocalypse Ale Works

When the wandering ceases, when the traveler stops upon the path and unloads the heart and mind, in the slow breath there is allowing. The soul’s compass can realign, measured out against the horizon as dusk is wrapped into night’s blanket. Darkness comes, shards of stars in an indigo sky reflect low fire over the mountains. Stretching out the curled tendrils of perception, Beloved dwells in the stillness. This skill of being, of fully expanding the soul comes from an awareness of the field of time that is hard to explain to most. A spiritualist once told me that I had a tremendously large higher consciousness, but that trying to bring it all down here was the main conflict I experience on this journey. Feeling the world as I do can make it difficult to connect with others, to find those who also understand this way of perceiving existence. I’ve encountered many souls across the years, but there are only a few in whom I can intuit an understanding, an unstated sense of “being”ness. Like leaves burst forth from the branch upon which I also grow, the wind moves us both in tandem.

Saturday, I had the good fortune to share an evening with another wandering soul. Pausing in his own journey, a friend whom I had not seen in over a decade stopped in to re-connect. A wayfarer, like me, he has wandered the globe on his own path to becoming and it was a joy to share his company. We spent the early evening at a local brewery, Apocalypse Ale Works, sampling their Belgian dubbel and chocolate stout. The Ale Works is new to the Lynchburg area, and is as simple an establishment as they come. No menu other than their beer and perhaps some pretzels allows for me to bring my own favorite beer food, peppered almonds and walnuts or Dubliner cheese. What endears this taproom to me most is the genuine and committed company of folks who run it and the quality which permeates its character. I often write here on their large deck facing the tracks. A train will usually pass by, its roar and clacking cadence and high humming whine rushing by. The sky is open to wide winged hawks peering down as they fly over a grassy plain of a backyard.

I rarely take friends to one of my writing spots, but it has the feel of the tavern or the campfire; it is a place to box the compass. We caught up on life as much as one can, condensing the life events of thirteen years. The factual high points become moot after a while, but the stories that rise to the telling are the most importnant. Moments of significance tell of the journey. In the hours we spent together, I began to reflect on what it means to live fully, to follow one’s bliss for my friend does so effortlessly. He is tied only to himself. His eagerness to find the Truth in life and his resiliency to events as his path unfolds is testament to a way of living few can claim and many envy, including me. I am only beginning to see the unfolding and to feed the courage I use daily to seek my bliss despite societal pressures.

We are both multi-abilitied people with insatiable curiosities. Align that with a disdain for in-the-box living and you have individuals who seek authenticity and yet feel the pain of isolation and disconnection at times. But the way in which we both live places us in the same mind, the same understanding of being-ness. Simply put, we “get it” and in each other’s company, we find simpatico.

So the night spread out before us like the blue black expanse of a Southwestern sky peppered with stars. Beers were had upon a  lattice table with food, then stories and pictures from the road. We hopped over to a local pizza place and during dinner, he noticed my journal that I always carry with me. I generally don’t ready it when I am with others, but I think unconsciously I knew that there would be a moment where a thought or phrase would inspire me. From the first movement of conversation I knew I’d be learning from the connection and I tend to pay quite close attention when the Universe nudges.

“Is that your book?”, he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I carry it with me when I go places by myself. The experiences go here in bits and thoughts …I hear lines or phrases…I have thoughts… then later, I write.”

I opened it to show him, flipping half folded and dog-eared pages, pen and multi-colored ink and pencil lines, colors wildly mixing in straight and diagonal shapes from page to page. I’m a third of the way through this one, bought in Staunton in March.

“I’ve started sketching again.” I said, showing him a pen and ink of one of the trees outside of the Ale Works I had drawn one Sunday a few weeks ago. I haven’t drawn or painted in a long while. A long while.


Flipping open to a blank page spread, I wrote his name and our position on the compass and then, Old Souls Unite

For that is the way of it. The awareness to wander comes after many years…many lifetimes.

My left hand was testament to the moment. And without a hesitation, after I sketched around its outline, he placed his right upon the page.

Left hand…right hand.

Two leaves, one limb….one tree.


As as we parted ways, the lesson in connection became clear to me. Each moment of living is significant to our own becoming whether we are aware of it at the time or not. Times of rest create a space for Truth and Beauty, for being lost in ourselves. In this pausing, the infinite lies. The now is so necessary, yet its significance is so hard to see. What a kindness from the Universe to share that space with a kindred soul and to rest on this journey, to re- align sights to the horizon, compass in hand.

Sacred Space

26 Apr

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Tuesday found me at the home and garden of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer, the first Virginian and first African American to be included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature. The experience in real-time:

I sit this afternoon in a writer’s space. . .writing within the living green and peaceful solitude of spring flowers tucked into the heart of my city.

This tiny town yard turned oasis is a sacred space. This place of pausing is a world unlike the one of home and dishes and laundry and care to the needs of others where there is an implied attentiveness to things in the space of daily living. For the words to come, for the Beloved to appear, space is needed, a space within and a space without.

The late afternoon sends forth its exhalation in couched comfort. Two dark birds land, dip themselves into the garden bowl, fluffing marbled chestnut and blueblack coats within the puddled basin filled with rain. We all bathe. . .a world apart from the visible world in a nested space of present being.

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Inside the house walks an echo of gentle strength, this poet woman, a settled wisdom that holds my hand and rubs my tired shoulders. An imagined half love links our mutual world of words. A love slow and content.

She says …All in good time, baby. In time….

I imagine waking here in the mornings, the sun is streaming in the back windows across white muslin sheets and knobby cotton chenille spreads. A gospel humming down the hall and the shuffle of slippered feet on creaking stairs signals my own slow rise. The edges of a pink picoteed cotton nightgown slips up above my boney knee. Morning breeze, not warmer than the skin will bear, nor filled with a humid heaviness trails me to the bathroom where silver spouts empty into the footed porcelain tub. A radio in the kitchen calls up the back stairwell, coffee curled into its chicory drawl…

Hear the past, the song is old
The summer days are through
With silver threads among the gold
They still say, “I love you“. . .

My skin, damp gooseflesh in the slightly chilled air, bundles into a chintz robe. First, some puffs of lilac Tre-Jur, then a crisp ironed cotton dress. No shoes on these dark bare waxed floors, warmed by the morning sun. Walking through the foyer, the parlor, the dining room,  my soles now slide onto cool kitchen parquet. Coffee fumes  from the pot in woodsy waves. Cup, hot milk, and froth in tiny bubbles is pure sweetness in a Jadeite cup. Tasks today must wait until I unpack these musings, this conscious tangle, a setting to rights the order of things within the mind and soul. Then, to the work of hands, an endless list of daily doings that occupy a woman.

Shall I coddle an egg? Toast a slice of yesterday’s bread to dip in the rich yellow yolk, half thickened in the shell? Or shall I coat the buttered brown corners in sunshine marmalade? Late spring moves down the open hall from front lawn to back, the doors of this red earth Shaker house open like the sky to the sounds of the neighborhood dogs and birds, a purring motor, a fading song.

Day is shining over the fence. Tree limbs lift to catch the joy of delphinium daylight in their long stretching.  Draping wisteria and tulips with cupped white and lavender laced edges enjoy the afternoon sun. Nasturtium petal tongues taste the green blue breeze.

A Lover Muses
Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa,
I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar,
into your flaming heart;
Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter
as the furies after tore him apart?
A bird, next, small and humming,
looked into your startled depths and fled…
Surely, some dread sight, and dafter
than human eyes as mine can see,
set the stricken air waves drumming
in his flight.

Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty,
I cannot see, I cannot hear your fluty
voice lure your loving swain,
But I know one other to whom you are in beauty
born in vain;
Hair like the setting sun,
her eyes a rising star,
motions gracious as reeds by Babylon, bar
all your competing;
Hands like, how like, brown lilies sweet,
cloth of gold were fair enough to touch her feet…
Ah, how the senses flood at my repeating,
as once in her fire-lit heart I felt the furies
beating, beating.

Seated in turquoise reed, feeling this sacred space, I write next to a tiny house of poetry. Small enough to keep well, a space to call one’s own. One chair sits back from a mahogany desk, the plain of cool, smooth leather with gold flocked edges glows under a lamp. A bell glass shade holds flame against the shaded window light, just right. . .page. . . pen. . .word. . .soul.

Why does time move so slowly in the house of Oneself? Perhaps solitude is the closest earthly echo of the Infinite, the closest we come to the heavens down here upon the crowded shore. A poet persistently elbows for a space within to find a garden, eternally apart from life.

Emerging from the house wherein She dwells,  Beloved arrives.

An American Song

23 Apr

For nearly ten years, I could not listen to music without really knowing why. Any song, but especially voices in polyphonic harmony caused me either great emotional pain or annoyance. All I wanted was silence. In the car, in the house, in the world. I have a clear memory of returning from a Celtic festival in 2007 listening to a CD from Seven Nations and literally keening to high harmony. As I steered the car around the Beltway, the voices and notes linked into my soul much too deeply and a vast ocean of raw emotion was revealed. In that time, connection to artistic form was too intense, too close and I could not allow its energy near. Music moved me without much persuasion. However, last spring I slowly began to listen again to songs I loved once, a long time ago.

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky
I am not your blowing wind
I am the lightning
I am not your autumn moon
I am the night. . .
The night.

And once started, I ate it like a starving child. Music fed my flame. I couldn’t stop. Lyrics called to me. Rhythms took me into dream, into memory, the notes translating my emotion into sound beyond word. And since, I have wandered from those old beloved songs through genre after genre until now, landing into something that intrigues me intensely not just musically but culturally: Americana.

With spring’s slow onset, daily runs with bluegrass and old time carry me forward. A search then began for live experiences. After a chat about my love for bluegrass with one of my friends, he suggested a performance by the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Jefferson in Charlottesville. The opportunity seemed perfect. I’d never heard of them, but that concert unknowingly opened a door for me to satisfy this new penchant for “southern roots” music. In dancing and connection, a deep happiness blossomed which has carried me for weeks. Country Girl, Cornbread and Butterbeans, even a remake of Hit ‘Em Up Style had me alternately flat footin’ and hip poppin’. The quartet’s style is so unusual, a curious modern re-visioning of bluegrass, old time country, R&B and early 20th century jazz; all of it was an amazing new encounter. A cultural interest in traditional instruments and the links back to Scots and Irish roots also endeared the band to me. When their lead singer Rhiannon Giddens performed a puirt a beul (gaelic mouth music), I was keeping time with a boot heel and hand to the thigh, calling out at every emotional turn. In singing of an ethnic cultural past, the slave narrative of Julie shone most brightly in this musical form. I didn’t know what to call it, but I knew I had to hear more. Even in watching dancers from Good Foot Dance Company, I began to see convergence culture for the first time. For someone who has been in a dark silence musically for over a decade, this type of audio fusion was enough to completely capture my senses.

As a result, the fueling for traditional and bluegrass edged live music has delivered me to the Ciderworks and Rapunzel’s and then finally, this past weekend to DxDT in Roanoke, Virginia. The Down by Downtown festival celebrates local music by providing venues for the numerous artists of all musical genres in the Roanoke Valley. When had I last seen a local band perform or even had choices among them? In the recent past, modern consumer culture has delivered to public approval only “marketable” bands, those who had potential for profit in one form or another. But now, much like the early days of rock and roll, self promotion and production allows artists to present their efforts directly for public discernment. Through the advent of technology, all art forms are undergoing a local Renaissance, from what I have observed. While it does create more chatter, more need for sifting through the overwhelming volume of expression, it does allow more voices to be heard ….more perspectives of culture and diverse American life.

Friday night took me to Fork in the City to check out The Floorboards, a rock-blues- folk fusion band with audible ties to the Eagles and Van Morrison, with some Mellencamp and Stones thrown in for good measure. The songs were fresh and entirely danceable, Matt Browning’s vocals in clear strong harmony with fiddler- mandolin player Patrick Turner and Bob Chew’s blues guitar. The Floorboards musical blend was like an early evening ride down a mountain country road windows rolled down with a gang of friends, beer and bonfire to come.

A real treat during the evening was fifteen year old Gabe, a blues guitarist and singer invited to play a tune with the band. From the moment he began, I think all who were there would agree that we were witness to a musical virtuoso. And the fact that these ensemble moments happen in local venues extends the idea of the importance of community art expression and the connections which grow each artist within it. To me, this is the heart of a commitment to “local”.

On Saturday evening, I stopped at one of the market restaurants to hear a DxDT band, but soon found the atmosphere a bit seedy and the blues duo not too compelling. Down by Awful Arthur’s, I strolled into the waves of music. Venue after venue, the sound floated like flotsam on a sea, swirling between the brick and glass fronts of packed restaurants. Chilled night air was held back by curtains of lamplight and neon glow. I stopped to watch members of Another Roadside Attraction busking in front of the Market, soon amazed that not many stopped to enjoy, to take in the creativity and life of the street. After a song and a juggle, I swam through the crowd around the corner toward Fork in the Market, stumbling onto a raucous party featuring Welcome to Hoonah, another Americana style band with a unique eclectic blend of folk, country, zydeco, and blues. Spencer McKenna and Jessica Larsen’s vocals wound out song after country rootsi-fied song, blending guitar with old time washboard …yes, a washboard. Add violin, steel guitar, bass, drums and a swinging party and the tiny Fork dance floor flooded with the lot of us. And dance? Yes…yes we did indeed.

In thinking about this genre and the artists who comprise it that night, I texted a friend.

“I’m destined to be an Americana chick…I need ten years back.”

“But what does this mean?” she said.

And I don’t really know, honestly. These artists and the lot who love them are so creative and unique, at least the ones I’ve encountered. They seem to be making a world more attentive to the environment, committed to local art, craft and expression, and living a full and rich life by navigating two worlds, both real time and virtual space. I’ve labeled them Tech Hippies. They give me hope that the limits and excesses of ultra conservative materialist culture will be challenged and surpassed without renouncing all the positives that technology has brought to us. Maybe we’re just beginning to learn to balance another new world of thought and music which might take us all further toward home on this collective journey. It’s an American song I want to sing. . . with them.

As Thyself

20 Apr

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And the second is like to it:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
There is no other commandment greater than these. – Jesus of Nazareth

In the summer of 2008, I spent fourteen days in Ireland as a result of a generous teaching award. To say that the experience changed me would be a tremendous understatement. Ireland was really the beginning lesson of how to navigate this journey.What I learned there is beginning now to have its first flowering. At the time, I didn’t realize how the lives of everyday people would eventually show me a way to live that was ultimately more fulfilling, but now I see it. And every chance I have to revisit, even for the briefest of moments, places which resonate with the same quality as the time I spent in Ireland, I cherish them. Sunday, I was able to go back for an entire afternoon.

After having sampled the cider at Bold Rock , a spark of curiosity was lit. So packing a small picnic for Clar and I, up the road we went to spend a beautiful Virginia Sunday afternoon at Albemarle Ciderworks in North Garden. Even though the original focus was to enjoy Irish traditional music by Patrick Olwell and friends, expanding knowledge about local fare is a new interest for me.  Clar and I curved up the gravel drive among beautiful budding trees and boxes of fall apples, mellowed now in springtime. A light bottle blue sky framed green hills quite similar to ones I walked in Ireland. Immediately, I knew it would be hard to leave once the sun began to dip behind the blossoms.

Albemarle Ciderworks tasting room is lovely and I was entirely impressed by the knowledge and presentation of their five cider offerings. Perhaps impressed isn’t the best word, astounded might be a better one. I had no idea that an apple could be turned into something so similar to champagne, with all the nuances and notes of the vine. Top picks for me were the Royal Pippin, named for the main apple variety, the Albemarle Pippin and its greatest fan Queen Victoria.  The effervescence of cider promotes the tart lemon pineapple notes of this variety, plus all that sparkle is just plain fun. Jupiter’s Legacy, named for Thomas Jefferson’s servant in charge of his cidery, was the driest of their offerings, quite mineral and bright with a tiny hint of crabapple. The acidity of this variety is definitely something to balance out a rich cheese or cream dish. The Ragged Mountain was described to me as the most basic cider, resembling the kind colonial Virginians would have made and drank daily. Having slight backnote sweetness, it did resemble ciders I had experienced the day before, but definitely wasn’t what most would call sweet.

Cider has completely changed for me from visiting the Ciderworks. That an apple can be transformed into complex deliciousness through careful crafting has opened my mind to other traditional culinary arts, especially from Jefferson’s era. The story of John Adams daily morning tankard was just one of many lessons about the benefits of apple consumption I learned during my tasting. Cultural history is served alongside cider at Albemarle Ciderworks and the Sheltons are committed to the preservation and local history behind the fruit and ciders they produce.  I was warmly greeted mid tasting session by Charlotte Shelton, who taught me about the development of the apple farm and cidery. Efforts to promote the growth of heirloom apples was the first part of their mission. They host apple growing seminars and cider making forums, as well as offering apple trees and fruit throughout the year for sale.  Her hospitality and graciousness has been the most generous of any traditional craft beverage establishment I have visited.

Finally, I settled into a spot under the marquee on the patio with a picnic lunch, shrub of Royal Pippin to accompany my small spread of cheese, turkey, pepper, olive and sweet pickle. The happiest part of the day came, though, when Patrick Olwell arrived with friends for a session, a REAL Irish session. Patrick is a master flutemaker, his wooden instruments are so well crafted he is considered the Stradivarius of Irish flutemakers. At first, the music began with fiddle, flute, uilleann pipe and concertina, but as the afternoon progressed, more fiddles arrived and another concertina.  Sitting there, cider in hand, I looked to the hills and remembered that the music I am loving most these days, bluegrass, has its roots in the Irish immigrants who settled here , the green hillocks and mountains reminding them of a far away home. When I hear reels and jigs, I can’t describe how connected I feel to a culture and a sense of pride in my own ethnicity. Even though I am an American, my soul aligns itself with a people and history beyond these mountains all the way across a mighty ocean to a tiny island nation. In chatting with a gentleman and his daughter during the session, I explained the significance of what was happening, not just an Irish session but all musical fellowship. Friends and neighbors come together to share in the spirit of song, food and drink, story, and dance. Music connects to our emotions in a way words often cannot and our sharing of it imparts our love for each other as friend, family member, and as a human.

One of the musicians sat his tiny son next to him within the circle, gently placing a miniature fiddle and bow in his arms. Patrick’s adult son also played within the group, the musicians reflecting a wide range of age and experience. The outer ring of us echoed this continuity in life. From a sleeping infant in his stroller by a iron cafe table, all the way to a host of ladies in their senior years, toes dancing the bricks in joy, the  music connects us and we need it, often. I have missed these afternoons and the pub evenings by a peat fire with story and song, laughter or tears. These moments are the essence of communion, with each other, and with the earth in the turning of its seasons. Like the apple, each person is unique, unlike any other on the tree. Yet the tree creates us, feeds us, each limb a community, each globe of fruit, a family of nurtured seeds within. In time, our families grow and our communities widen and evolve, but always the traces of the past, are passed on in our art, in our sharing, and in our love and care for each other.

In My Own Back Yard

17 Apr

A friend stops by my classroom.

“How was your weekend?” She asks.

While listening to my story, she smiles, shakes her head.

“How do you find these things? There’s nothing to do around here!”

I tell her about web sites and checking notice boards, but I’m reminded, most of the time my wayfaring is simple serendipity, finding something good when I’m not especially looking for it. Saturday was a prime example. After changing my mind about a local event, I needed to reshape the day with less than 24 hours to spare. Luckily though, I really didn’t need to leave my own backyard, so to speak, and finding happiness there is something I definitely want more of. How can I convey Saturday’s weather other than to say it was spring perfection? New green landscape, splotched with full flushes of cherry and plum blossoms, and lawns full of bright popcorn limbs of forsythia amid eruptions of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths stretching out for miles as I drove north on Rte. 29. Clar had his little head in the wind, soft black floppy ears trailing behind as his nose took in the warm morning air. Soon, he won’t be able to go with me on my rambles. I’m not at all happy about that, and he won’t be either. But Saturday’s plan was a picnic somewhere in Nelson or Albemarle County and then, a local band at Rapunzel’s in Lovingston in the evening. The time between was open to . . .serendipity.

On my way north, I stopped in Lovingston at Trager Brothers Coffee Roastery to test drive their cafe au lait. I have been wanting to go there for quite a while, but hadn’t been able to catch them open. The roastery is in the middle of a quaint town I have always loved. Lovingston’s Main Street reminds me of a tiny model village set under a Christmas tree, folk Victorian farm homes within a mix match of architectural era businesses. A grocery, a cafe, a bakery, a church, a bookstore/coffee shop, the town has a perpetual nostalgic feel. Upon reaching the middle of the thoroughfare, TBC’s sign swung out to the road. “Open”, finally. Up the gravel drive, behind an older two storied home, I curved and bumped. The front of the tiny cafe was completely open to the gravel lot and backyard, the side portico, shaded with chairs and tables.

A bright good morning smile greeted me from Katherine, a Randolph College grad who made me a frothy rich red eye cafe au lait and for a most reasonable price. She explained that they were undergoing renovations, but I fell in love with the tiny place. It’s like going over to the neighbor’s house for coffee on a Saturday morning and finding a personal barista in the kitchen. Trager Brothers Coffee is sold in several places in the local area as well as in regional markets. Their beans are organically grown and the roastery is committed to preparing coffee by hand in small batches, which improves the flavor and protects the environment. This attentiveness to quality over quantity reflects a trend among many places I have visited and loved in the last few months. The idea of buying local, of supporting the efforts of artists, both what I would call domestic artists and those of a more traditional variety has been a part of my social philosophy for many years. So I’ll drive, nearly 30 minutes on summer mornings now for a cafe au lait somewhere other than a cookie cutter coffee establishment that shall not be named (coughStarbuckscough) since the main locally owned coffee shop in Lynchburg has closed. Clar can come along, relaxing under my chair, while I have an amazing cup and sit with laptop to write.

Lovingston is peaceful. The people I have met there are so unlike typical ruralites. While they are definitely a people connected to the land and to the community, they are also quite interested in the arts, in music, in growing and creating. Organic farms, vineyards, cideries are sprouting rapidly across the landscape, especially down the Rte. 151 corridor. Locally sourced restaurants are following. Folk culture, supported by these businesses, reflects in their art, their music, their writing. It’s so hopeful to me, this commitment back to the community, back to the artisan, the farmer, the craftsman. Perhaps a folk Renaissance is coming, squired by the generation behind me, who has tired of the “yuppie” material world in which we reared them. I hear the change in the music, see it in the style of their living. . . and I’m coming along with them.

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Post picnic, I headed down to Nellysford. First stop, Bold Rock Cidery, where I tasted all four of their cider selections. Honestly, I’ve been a cider snob since it tends to the sweet side, thinking those without much of a palate go that direction in the adult beverage department. However, upon tasting I am starting now to appreciate it much more. The Vintage Apple was bright and quite crisp with a lemon edge back note. On a hot day, after that lawn mower winds down, an icy cold one would be an eye roller. The Virginia Draft came next. Mellow and smooth, it yields to the sweet too quickly for me, much like the traditional ciders I have had in the past. The premium ciders surprised me, though, resembling sparkling wines and champagnes. Dry enough to mirror respectable Prosecco, they impressed me. Crimson Ridge Vat #1 was near to a demi- sec champagne, with honey notes. It would pair exceptionally well with beef tenderloin and horseradish. My favorite, though, was the Vintage Dry. The driest of their ciders, the lemon pop was quite pronounced. I’ll serve it with grilled summer fare. And at only 10$ a 750 ml bottle, its something I can easily offer friends in my backyard as we dine al fresco.

After tasting, Clar and I traveled down to Devil’s Backbone Brewery, a familiar venue and restaurant for me from last summer. What a perfect site and stage for local outdoor theater and musical events! I sat in the sun cascading in stripes through the high arched windows and across the gleaming wooden floors, starting my evening with a Schwartz Bier Black Lager brewed on site. Pork Flat Iron, came next, a perfect paring of a grilled pork tenderloin glazed with sweet jalapeno mustard. Roasted red potatoes and baby carrots accompanied it. Devil’s Backbone and similar local restaurants are establishing a standard of fresh food and craft beverages in the area and the response is most encouraging.

As the sun began to set, I made my way to Rapunzel’s to end the day where it had begun, the tiny town of Lovingston. As I took my seat, I saw Katherine again from Trager Brothers.

“Cyndi!” She tucked into my front row table with a smile just as bright as the morning’s.”How was the day?”

We talked about Nelson and it’s slow change. Even though the IGA grocery has closed and the corridor’s growth hasn’t quite made it to the tiny hamlet, there’s hope. Hope for an organic grocery, or more cafes, a vineyard or a cidery…maybe even a traditional tavern. As the music began, it hit me…this community is so alive. Cody and Freeman Mowier, their parents sitting right next to me, opened the evening playing a few original tunes on acoustic guitars. The room slowly began to fill with greetings and hugs; neighbor after neighbor, friend after friend arrived. In this place there is connection at the heart, and as Chamomile and Whiskey, a local folk-rock fusion band with roots in blues, bluegrass and Irish traditional played, I thought about who this post grunge generation really is,these hipster mountain men and hippie vintage gals embracing Tweets and slow food, Foursquare and organic espresso.

The band’s set list, proudly scribbled on a PBR box flap, prompted song after song, including Long Day dedicated to guitarist Koda Kerl’s father, whose memorial service was held hours earlier at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. His mother sat in the audience, his friends and fellow musicians there as well . . .off stage, sometimes on stage, but always connected to the real life behind the song, behind the music. In their debut of A Thousand Sleepless Nights, a slight nod to the rhythms of U2 reminded me of other small communities I’ve known. C&W’s banjo player, Ryan Lavin’s Irish roots reflect in his vocals and picking, and Marie Borgman’s fiddle harmonizes right along.

This connection…

Is it the land…Is it the sky? Is it a place and people interlaced in creative movement through this green Virginia valley? There is a simple, but great beauty there among them and luckily I found it, right in my own backyard.

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A Joy Forever

12 Apr

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness — Keats

When I was a little girl, spring days were filled with warm waves of lilac breeze and white muslin sheets drying on the clothesline at Granny’s. The windows would be open, the air cool against the plaster walls. Post breakfast was often spent with her rolling my hair on permanent rods to keep me quiet. Then in the late afternoon, after dancing in the yard or playing on the back porch, the curlers would come out, brushing would ensue, sometimes ending in bow, sometimes just the curls. Thus began my introduction to the world of beauty.

My mother was the first feminine beauty icon for me. Simply put, she is a gorgeous woman. She’s been beautiful all her life with a genuine sweetness under the smooth skin, thick dark brunette hair, and olive complexion. Mom’s not an academic, by any means, but she’s kind, compassionate and she has an eye for beautiful things. Shopping for clothes is an art for her and she’s good at it. Once I reached my teen years, nearly every Saturday was spent in the mall shuffling from store to store with coupons and sales flyers. In high school, I poured through Vogue and Seventeen magazine, Brooke Shields as my teen idol. As an only child of moderately affluent parents, my wardrobe was pretty extensive even though I was much larger bodied than my peers. Through mom’s taste, I did learn discernment in clothing, classic pieces and lasting fine fabrics. But, the external value of adornments eventually became too heavy. In youth, I developed a skewed view of the personal aesthetic. A “flawed” body could be covered in man- made beauty, rather than uncovering the self and letting that become the truest form.

My fashion sense paused when clothing became primarily of my own purchase, but now that I am quite fit and of limited means, my fashion savvy gained way back when has come in handy. Eclectic style with mix matched layers, texture and quirk inspire me. Historical costuming is a love of mine for many years. And although I don’t sew as much as I used to, my style does have a vintage multi-era edge. As a non-trendy person, when I saw the flyers for the Vita 2013 fashion show, the blended layered Victorian inspired melange intrigued me. I’d never been to a fashion show and a peek at what was currently in others’ closets might be enlightening.

Vita 2013 was held at Phase 2 dance club in Lynchburg, and as I entered, I knew almost right away that the experiment into modern culture was not going to serve me well. Upon sweeping observation, the sense was of swimming in a sea of unconsciousness, the superficial exterior postures of others covering selves not yet recognized. The ridiculousness of trendy shoes didn’t escape me, gaggles of gals in taupe patent leather platforms, identically clad in Elle/ JCrew regalia. The same blonde streaked stacked hair, the same shuffled teetering like a five year old in mom’s big girl shoes, was like watching an assembly line of dolls roll toward the packaging department. Their shoulders revealed the lack of confidence in themselves, upon which they could not balance confidence in the clothing, as if the package would somehow make the present. It made me laugh, sadly.

Socially though, what gave me the most pause were the little girls, seven, eight years old imitating the walk, the flip. . . the focus on validation as object. Halfway through the pre-show, I almost left but something told me to wait, to see. What is the fascination for so many here? Such a variety of people were present, people I haven’t seen celebrated in this culturally narrowed town of mine. Gay men were in attendance in droves. Divas and hair/cosmetic stylists and fashion mavens and older male designers reminiscent of Yves St Laurent and Valentino, but then the experience began to change. And when the announcer talked about the desire of the show’s organizers, to encourage cultural creativity and the arts here, I felt caught in a dichotomy.

As girl after girl walked the runway, flirting and flipping her hip and her hair, I started to think about what was truly being shown: the woman, the fashion, or the mood which the fashion creates in the woman. Which is the truest form of beauty? The object or the emotion it elicits from us? Does that then qualify it as … Social superficiality as art, perhaps art of the masses, seemed then dependent upon perception and concept. Do I see the model as a canvas upon which an expression of life has been created or do I see a gendered subject decorated and rendered into an object of aesthetic pleasure? Is art’s value determined through medium? Through the results of its effect on individuals and the cultural constructs of society?

The experience really all narrowed down to this. All of life is artistic expression if one sees it as such. Beauty is both subjective and objective, all at the same time. It is the value we ascribe to the artistic effort and the way in which we approach judgment or comparison between one art work and another which determines its relative value. Do we judge on intrinsic merit and growth? On innovation? Or on the most widely embraced concept en masse? Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, but then again, what shades the beholder’s eye?

Many of the creations I saw were unique, not to be copied and sold. However, local retail lines were shown as well, the contrast remarkable. And perhaps that is another line of demarcation. In art, the unique combination of creative idea and expression presents itself to public scrutiny, from which an element may then be copied, developed and distributed. So in everyday form, we surround ourselves with fragments of other’s creative expression. Perhaps within that we need to place our own. To create beauty is to express that which is most honest, most genuine in our response to life. And we need not only array ourselves in the creativity of others to call ourselves beautiful, as we are also creative unique expression as selves alone. Beauty is the self and its expression in the outer world. Maybe we need this understanding to see a healthier separation between canvas and art in the fashion world. This might ultimately free us socially and encourage the type of diversity designers and artists embrace and desire to cultivate among us.

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Book in Hand

9 Apr

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass. . .

Virginia springs are filled with a kind of green that I have only seen in one other place …Ireland. First growth grass is lush and bright everywhere, but the mountain trees have yet to leaf. Instead, tree limbs are laden in a first flush of starry white, rose and lavender buds. The warm edges of the breeze have fluttered open, a last veil of winter sleet swept away in front of it. Winter is saying a lingering goodbye, but none of us are crying about it, I think. This winter has been one long December, a cold lead of grey drear drawn out to the last possible edge. It’s been a hard few months for so many people I know. This weekend, however, sunshine bore the message that the worst is behind, flowers tilting their small faces upward. A turning has been made.

Saturday, Clar and I rolled up the road to Lovingston Winery’s opening day to meet dear friends who live a few hours in the opposite direction. Nelson County is the half way mark between my “wine conscience” and soul brother Paul and his lovely wife Newt. Arriving around mid-day, I eased down the steep embankment to a lovely spot by a small pond. Lovingston’s Winery is a compact place, all the workings organized into a gravity fed system. A tasting bar is tucked into a small corner of the work area. Upon tasting their selection, the whites quickly rose as top picks for both myself and my companions. Lovingston Seyval Blanc, a fantastic new release, was rounded and smooth with a bit more body than an average Chardonnay or Viognier. It will pair well with seafood and summer grilling. The Petit Manseng was bone dry, bright and lemony with a sharply citrus bite. But since their line is small and there’s not much in the way of a picnicking area to lounge in, we decided to leave right after the tasting and head toward Mountain Cove. For some reason, both Paul and I had thought we didn’t like their wine. Perhaps we had tasted with them at Rebec’s Garlic Festival? We couldn’t remember, but the trek was worth a try while exploring sunny back roads round the mountain.

Down the windy mountain ways, road after road through Nelson’s farms and fields we traveled, finally turning up a gravel drive toward some small barns resembling old tobacco sheds. After parking in the field, I chuckled. The whole place reminded me of a tiny cottage farm I once encountered in Ireland, and I half expected chickens to scoot out any moment. The sun glowed against the rustic red planks; bright yellow boxes filled with spring pansies lined the sides of… a tasting room? A porch and table in front of the small Appalachian shed signaled a possible entrance, but we weren’t really sure if it was open or if anyone was on site. Soon though, friendly lady in gardening clothes and hat rounded the corner. Her casual charm reminded me of home, of neighbors one can drop by to visit any time with that, “come on in the house” type of comfortable authenticity.

Showing us in across pallet plank floors, past the wood stove and rocking chair, she asked us, “Y’all here to taste?” The smell of past fires lingered in the light filtering through high windows and we looked around at the bottles lining the plank walls. At our assent, out came six bottles. Plunk. . . plunk, plunk…three rocks tumblers were popped onto the rough hewn bar, the sign above it letting us know that tastings were free. If we had come all that way, we were obviously interested in the wine, it said. The genuine simplicity in it struck me, nothing snooty about this place. And I’ll be honest, I wondered about what we were going to taste, especially when the fruit wines appeared on the counter. Surprisingly though, lack of pretension extended to the wine as well. Mountain Cove features some of the best wine I have had from a local vineyard, hands down. As we tasted a full bodied spicy Chardonnay, steel aged much to my surprise, our hostess told us that Mountain Cove is the oldest winery in Virginia, having been started in the early 1970’s. As we moved from wine to wine, each one proved to be impeccable, and at only $12 to $15 a bottle, a steal when comparing to the $20 plus bottles at most vineyards I have visited. The Tinto, a blend of Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc was big and spicy, less tannic than most reds, and the Skyline White, simply incredible. A Vouvray style with a slight effervescent twang, like having a jingle bell in one’s mouth on the finish. These are substantial wines, developed and solid.

Mountain Cove’s fruit wines were lovely as well. But I have a small confession, I’m a fruit wine snob. When I was directed to do a “cheese shooter” at a wine festival from one vineyard’s hot pepper wine, I rolled my eyes. Fruit wines generally fall into the sweet category. . . not a fan. However, Mountain Cove’s Blackberry is dryer than an off dry Riesling and the Apple, drier than a Gewürztraminer. I didn’t care for the Peach, but I’m not a huge peach fan anyway.

As Paul, Newt and I sat on the porch with a bottle of Skyline, we caught up on our lives. They are in the midst of professional transitions and I have been…well, on this journey. We sipped and laughed and I remembered why I love them so much. They are genuine and so real. I thank the Universe daily that they are in my life, for they love me in spite of my failings and complaints. Times I spend with them are precious, often funnu like the time we played Scrabble in December and I didn’t remember the rules. It had been nearly twenty years, and upon receiving my tiles, I promptly flipped one over and proudly announced, “F”! At which they burst into laughter and then said, ”Um Cyndi . . .you don’t tell the other players what you have”. Or the time where I told Newt that my favorite things were the three “C’s”: Coffee, Cupcakes, and Wine. She looked at me with all the kindness and yet incredulousness of the moment and said,  “Three. . .C’s?”

As we laughed and re-connected, I was reminded of a wisdom given to me on the island at the start of this long December:

To be a friend is to love and be loved as a book in hand.

Real friendship is like a book with paper pages. You hold it in your hands. You touch and turn the pages. You make time for it, experience it, commit to it and it gives you an experience in connection and you take its story with you forever. That is a real friend. And in this age of technology, nothing will replace the reality of a book, a warm hand or a smiling face or. . .

A story.

Told with love or pain, in frivolity or confidence, good books only come along once in a while. That’s why they are worth the time to read.

Our beloved friends are those who make up the shelves of our libraries, well-worn copies we’d never part with for all their annotations and dog-eared edges. Like a rustic barn with no pretension, like a wine that is unassuming but excellent in its structure, each friend bears a beautiful story which we have the honor of not only enjoying but joining.

Skyline White

A Real Woman

4 Apr

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Jacky: A real woman needs a man

Gracieuse: Then I’m not a real woman

— Sport de Filles

As the largest festival of its kind in the United States, the French Film Festival in Richmond at the Byrd Theater was an event which I had anticipated for months. Carytown has that “je ne ces quoi” which makes it the perfect host. Cafes and shops lining the avenue were filled to overflowing with not only French speakers but German, Italian, Spanish. It was the closest I can imagine to being on a Parisian street. The Byrd Theater is an amazingly beautiful venue, its restoration supported by the Richmond community. Upon entering the lobby, a rich plushness transports patrons back to the earliest years of cinema. Surrounded in lush red, gold, and mahogany paneled walls, I marveled at the frescoes glowing behind carved wisteria trellis. A central chandelier in green, red and crystal white was breathtaking above a red velvet curtained stage, flanked by sconces, their low burning orange shades reflecting against the golden copper gilt. The space spoke to me of a time when coming to the theater for a film was an event. In our age of multiplex box cinema, where the screen takes precedence, this venue spoke of a wider experience, of film being an addition to life experience rather than a replacement.

All of the films I saw were excellent, but one principle quickly made itself evident: exceptionally strong central female characters. Perhaps it’s a French characteristic or just evident in the films I chose, but each one displayed a view of the lives of women that perhaps cut too closely. Friday evening’s film, Cigarettes et bas Nylons, explored the relationships between French WWII brides awaiting their journey to America in a processing camp. The film opens with their preparation at camp, chocolates, cigarettes and nylons symbolizing the abundance of American life. From the group, two main female leads emerge, their stories in direct opposition. A young French widow, Marie Therese, travels to small town Alabama to her new soldier husband. As peacetime unwinds, she finds herself the bride of a shell shocked alcoholic, whom she had married for security and a father for her young son. This story contrasts against another bride, Jeanette, who is told her new soldier husband has been killed before she can board the ship to America. Her journey back to a small French village and the judgments she receives from her family and from men in her town fuels her longing to go to America, to enjoy its freedoms just like her “sisters” from the bridal camp. As their stories unfold, however, she comes to realize that no one’s life is entirely fulfilling. She travels alone to America, only to discover the dream of husband and American promise is just that …a dream. The characters’ greatest comfort is in friendship, within the intimacy they create with each other. Husbands seem ancillary to the true emotion and tenderness they share. Jeanette eventually finds love in America, but as a result of following her own path, alone.

Saturday, I viewed Sport de Filles, the story of a young woman, Gracieuse, impassioned by the love of sport horses. Her desire to take a horse “all the way” opposes the expected feminine path, namely find a husband and train horses on the side. In rehabilitating a cast off dressage horse, she finds freedom from a feminine stereotype. But what most interested me about the film was the male lead, Frantz Mann, an older trainer who must face his own aging masculinity. Mann’s relationship of twenty years displays a power struggle all too common among powerful women and the men they love. His partner, Josephine, owns the dressage training facility, the horses, and the business. Mann, a previous champion rider and now coveted trainer, brings in the business, namely young wealthy women riders. I found this inner story intriguing, the interplay between older men and younger women, the yielding to the man’s sexual capriciousness by his same age partner, and how her control of the business and his passive aggressive resistance underlies his own sense of emasculation. He has sexual power. She has money. And it’s the desire by each for the other’s power that ends the relationship.

His younger lover Susan, a forty-ish English woman, tells him, “Its incredible how sexy you are for a shriveled old man.” And the power construct reveals itself quite easily in that. I saw the romantic relationship narrative: older man grasping at power and clinging to his fading ego, younger woman as a spoiled sexual plaything gaining power through him. Gracieuse’s character directly contrasts against Susan, but she is distant, cold, and driven. Gracieuse is miserable at home with a boyfriend and father, only alive when she is in seat. Each film at the festival had a question and answer session post screening with the director. During this one, a young man asked, “Did you mean for this to be such a strong feminist film?” Patricia Mazuy’s reply? A slightly laughing, “No.” His question revealed more to the audience about the interplay of men and women than he had anticipated, I think.

At Sunday’s film, I hit a wall…a question that has plagued me about the absence of a mate in my own life. I must play a role in order to be acceptable or interesting to the opposite sex? I must be soft and helpless? OR I’m an independent ball breaker, cold and hard…a feminist? It seems there is no in between. I’ve always tried to be myself, who also happens to be female. And I thought I’d meet someone who is also himself, who also happens to be male. He’d be impressed by my strength and my intelligence, relieved that he didn’t have to fix me, carry me, or rescue me. He’d just enjoy me and let me enjoy him back. I found out differently. A bartender once told me, “You are the kind of woman I’d never date: driven, talented, intelligent and hot. . . . too hard”. I’m not joking. A male friend tried to help me understand this dilemma. In a recent letter he said,

Something else I had thought about the other day….you trying to explain your “softness”. . . maybe what you meant was that you don’t bear that vulnerability that men seem to be drawn to maybe?…That subservient “need”….in that you don’t have that desperate fawning thing . . .And most men have to have that being needed so that they can have control and boost ego, and it is all about possession and what you get-not about giving ….Anthropologically, it seems my gender has been trained to quest and hunt (in relationships as well)-but only for the easy prey….or if the quest is harder, it is more about the ego challenge itself…you just seem to realize your own ‘self’ and independence…

Even in some analyses of the heroine’s journey, the ultimate boon is to be independent from the domestic role. Seriously? Joe’s hero gets to be master of both worlds and I get to be powerful and alone?

Yay…I can hardly wait.

Death of the romantic ideal, that’s part of the heroine’s journey, they say. I’m so very excited about that. Women get to be their own mothers, find out their fathers were failures and overcome. . . to be alone or with other women. Aces.

On Sunday evening as I watched Therese Desqueyroux, her emotional numbness to the point of insanity disturbed me intensely. Set in the 1920’s, Therese walked willingly into a social role only to discover that the position would not “quieten” her mind. Her imagination would not fit into the role of wife and mother. If she remained, she would cease to exist. Her desire to lead an independent life was so great, she attempted to kill her husband with arsenic. I was so struck by her reply to his questioning of her motives. He had thought it was over the wealth of land their “merger” created.

“You think this was because of the pines?” she says.

To write about this has been difficult. Questions which the films provoke still linger and I continue to think about what it means to be me, a woman who wants to be a woman but one who does not want end up solely in the company of other women, “put out to pasture” so to speak. I think of Gracieuse riding, bending the horse to her will and of Jeanette, walking down a long road, alone. And of the change in Therese’s eyes as she walked away, free from her past and I know these women will be with me for quite a while.

Cigarettes et bas Nylons

Sport de Filles

Therese Desqueyroux

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