Tag Archives: richmond

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

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
once too often
from a Saturday night
glass of gin.

Limoges lies
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–

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.

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

that cannot

Turn on the Red Light

1 Mar


 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/

An Epic Wine

27 Feb

[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.

– Homer, The Odyssey

When I found The Map, it was like discovering a dusty worn parchment inking out the elusive burial spot of Blackbeard’s famous hoard. The Virginia Wine Board produces a free detailed map of the wineries, cideries and meaderies of the entire state of Virginia. It’s big. . . . really big. The sheer number of vintners, brewers, apple and honey fermenters in this state proves one thing. Virginians, like their forefather Thomas Jefferson, love the fruit of the vine. I had been to a few wineries in the past, but I had no idea of the literal explosion of vineyards and variety of wines produced in this state over the last twenty years. So when I stumbled upon the Virginia Wine Expo at the Richmond Convention Center, I bought my ticket more than a month in advance. Nearly all of the state wineries in one place? I imagined walking up to heavy double doors and then the treasure trove of bottled liquid ambrosia piled within awaiting my plunder.

The actual experience was a little different.

As I strode in to the main exhibition hall of the Richmond Convention Center, and luckily found a floor map, I quickly realized that this event was definitely not what I had anticipated. Imagine a home show, wine replacing the flooring and faux rock siding samples. I queued into a line in which I was promptly barcode bleeped and herded toward the branding and tagging area. Then, rounded up through the rotating gates into the main pasture where I could use my nifty ticket to gain my Riedel crystal trough. Coat check and wine check areas lined the perimeter of the pen, erhm…. I mean, “wine garden”, large round tables where we might enjoy our Circean feast. I had imagined most incorrectly, that such a venue would attract fine wine lovers, those who taste wine for its nuances, to know it, to understand it in an organic and personal way. My imagination also allowed for those who may not be so introspective, but yet, enjoy drinking Virginia wine and appreciating it for more than its ethereal properties. Those types may have been there, but I didn’t really encounter them…at least on my side of the vendor table.

Herds of wine swillers (say that three times fast), or flocks of sweet sipping sirens, are mostly what I navigated my tiny ship through, around and in between. The main group were the swillers…these were folks who mainly came to the event to drink ….and drink ….and drink a lot. Tastings were basically shots.

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

I take at least q few minutes  to fully examine a wine, and I make notes. I do not taste it a second time if it isn’t to my liking, pouring it out into the waste bucket. And if I have had more than a glass or two in total over the course of the day…I taste and spit. This doesn’t seem to be the case with anybody else and by the looks, I had suddenly sprouted a second and third head at the tables from which I was able to actually get a tasting. The crowds were HUGE. And wine was literally being tossed at times into glasses over people heads in Baccanalian frenzy. Every time one of the drunken herd would drop a crystal glass on the concrete convention floor the crowd would roar in approval of the shattering like the crowds at a coliseum lion fight.

The other group was the sweet sirens, mainly women hovering about the tables who would not taste anything that didn’t have residual sugars of 2% or more. They would try a viognier or semi dry white blend and their little noses would crinkle up like little hummingbirds inserting their probosci into an allium. They flitted about the backs of tables luring pourers to hurry us toward our sugary demise.

The most humorous moment of the day was standing en masse at the Narmada Winery table, waiting for a chance at a flight. A small group had moved in beside me and one of the ladies, another tall red head, began to regale her group with the tale of finding out her teenage son was beginning to “manscape” and how proud she was of his responsibility and consideration for his girlfriend. Intimate details about their budding physical liaisons ensued. Oh…Holy…Night… I didn’t know whether to laugh, or simply stand there in excruciating empathy for her absent son who had no idea that the entire queue now knew way too much about his beloved and her reaction to his denuded state.

But there were some bright moments of the day, like when the pourer at the Gabriele Rausse table could tell I knew, or at least cared, about the wine I was tasting. We had a nice chat about the delicate differences in the varietals involved in their offerings. Or when my eyes rolled back over nearly every wine King Family Vineyards sells. Even when I tasted the foods offered alongside the wines such as amazing chocolates by Gearharts (tequila lime white chocolate truffles), roasted almonds and cashews, and delicious cheese by Emmi Roth, I began to enjoy the day’s course.

After tasting seven different wineries’ wares, my favorites were predominantly white and rose’…I need more whites in my cellar. Of course my wine conscience texted me. “Are we being good?” Surprisingly, I did not buy one bottle. I made notes instead. I’m really trying to hold onto my bag.

Top Picks from The Wayfarin’ Lass: Wine Expo 2013

King Family Vineyards: Crozet, VA

  • Roseland 2012: Chardonnay/ Viognier
  • Cabernet Franc 2011
  • Merlot 2011

Rosemont Vineyards: LaCrosse, VA

  • Rose’ 2011
  • Lake Country Red
  • Cabernet Franc 2010

Gabriele Rausse: Charlottesville, VA

  • Vin Gris de Pinot Noir 2012

Cedar Creek: Star Tannery, VA

  • Chardonnay 2011 (one of the best Chardonnays I have ever had)

Potomac Point: Stafford, VA

  • Chardonnay 2011
  • La Belle Vie: Vidal, Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng
  • La Belle Vie Rose 2012 (so pretty)
  • Cabernet Franc 2010

Narmada: Amissville, VA

  • Primita 2010 (dessert wine)

Truth be told, at the end of the day I was glad to have survived the journey generally unscathed. I learned more about why I like wine, especially Virginia wine and it has more to do with focusing on mindfulness and the senses, especially in the service of the written word, more than the drinking. For wherever there is treasure, the search is really more about the seeker than the sought. In the search, our truest desires are revealed and where we eventually find our fortunes.

Inside the Light

13 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Prospect of a Tiny Treat

12 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emerald Cities

1 Aug

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This whole summer of adventure has brought me down a golden road that has been freeing, yet also treacherous. I’ve never traveled alone nor lived with the idea of doing exactly all the things I have longed to do. When I set out for Martha’s Vineyard I knew without a doubt that with a tiny amount of bravery, some good friends to be with, a camera, and a pen I could see what it is to really live. Dorothy’s journey has been with me since last October. I remember a dream, a terrifying dream of a tornado and a house, the whole scene from the film exploded into sepia storm in my early morning imagination. A house, a storm…WHAM. Where did these red sparkle shoes come from?

Traveling like this, though, has taught me valuable lessons but none more important than this: I can go anywhere I want, do anything I desire to do, and enjoy myself. I have always been able to do these things, I think, but its surprising to me.

Going to  Boston with Mom, I had to swing into being the one in charge. The derecho changed everything and navigating both home issues and Boston at the same time really showed me what I can handle. I drove that sportscar into Boston, navigated maps and streets and metro for us without GPS or a smartphone. I had my own room which allowed me to write more and I was able to process events much better. The really nice dinners began then, too. The House of Siam on Tremont where we ate on the street and then Roisin Dubh, the best Irish pub in Boston, I miss those moments. That night proved Mom can still chat up anyone anywhere at any time. My game absolutely dissolves in her presence. She is an enigma when it comes to chatting up men. The story of the Fleet Week Warrior still needs writing.

And then there was our walk into North End where we navigated endless streets of Italian restaurants and bakeries and grocery stores. It was a veritable sea for the senses: flowers baskets, and open windows and crystal glasses filled with wine, bread and olive oil and espresso on the corner. Dinner at Assiaggo, amazing.

But then, something dawned on me. I realized, I’m still sharing this. Mom was with me and I wondered what my life was going to feel like being totally alone at home again. It worried me a bit and I also realized, as my phone buzzed every hour or so in Boston, that I had I begun to give the experience away again to a friend during the last few days of our trip via text. Mom complained about it, too. When are you getting off your phone? she’d say. I’ve only had one for a year, I’d reply. I’m catching up.

When I went off to Richmond, something really unexpected happened. Through a chain of events, I found my phone silent and myself traveling pretty much alone. I had a huge lesson in promises and men being asses. A suitcase full of dresses had accompanied me to Richmond ready for promised dinner dates by someone who suddenly ghosted me. Well, what now? Yes, I had a educational workshops during the day. But at night, why couldn’t I go out to dinner anywhere I liked? Why couldn’t I tour the city the same way I did in Boston, just completely by myself? It seems like an obviously simple thought, but it never truly struck me that indeed, I could intentionally go to certain places alone. When I went, words would come, usually half lines of poetry or imagery, maybe a thought or two. But a cocktail napkin and a pen can be a perfect mediator between me and my experience. I didn’t have to text someone while I ate or watched people. I didn’t need a friend to dance or listen to a band. I could do it all with myself. And that’s what I did. To every place he intended to take me.

I suppose you could say that I’m still giving the experience away by blogging about it, but I don’t really see it like that. My writing is largely a conversation with myself. Somehow, it seems important to me to do that. Its a different kind of sharing, one in which I can still own the experience, but share it at the same time. It doesn’t mean I don’t really enjoy going out with people. Believe me, I love going out with others. But traveling this summer reminded me of the difference between “need” and “want”. And I think that’s a very important lesson when it comes to relationships of any sort. I still love to share my adventures with others, but I don’t need to have them with me to do it. Facebook has truly been a friend of mine.

So, Clar and I began to follow the yellow brick road this summer and for sure we needed a wizard to guide us. Somewhere in the summer’s journey, I realize something is at an end. But I now have a set of very sparkly shoes and they will take me further down a golden road to another glowing green city in the distance. . .and then hopefully back home.


Fire and Ice

24 Jul

Wall of Wine    Rose'

I’ve been thinking a lot on ice these days. Not so much because of how incredibly hot the weather has been, nor how much I seem to live in sweat most of the time, but small glimpses of it in moments. Since May, fire seems to have been a primary internal element. Something in me grew a flame that I didn’t fully understand until recently. And all cliche’s aside, the phoenix rises eventually. Maybe that’s what’s been happening.

The flame is changing now though, slowly and subtly shifting into a steady burn. The heat becoming almost constant, normalized and the leaps and bursts are fewer between. So I find myself thinking more on ice, on welcoming it rather than fearing it. Of wanting that sharp cold edge to hone the flame, keep it in check.

In traveling, especially having dinner up at the bar, I luxuriate in glimpses of ice among flame, and the sparkles of light that light up a night time wonder world.

So, I pull out my fist full of cocktail napkins, notes on moments spent in the experience of a place and a time and I reel backward to a Wednesday night, alone in Richmond at the Can Can Brasserie when the crystals began to take shape. I love that place, out of Paris in the 1920’s. The music floats in soft language around the room and through the summer flowers in epergene and flags in subtle sway from the ceiling fans.

I watched the bartender make a martini. I had never seen one being made…a sharp angled glass heaped with crystal cubes and then opaque white and yellowed liquid, all sliding into a cold silver shaker…

That sound… clickaswish… clickaswish…. clickaswish and then pouring through metal spiral teeth back into the glass, two moss green globes speared…lying in repose along an angled glass edge…

I wondered what it tasted like while the first of many oysters flooded my mouth with cold ocean.

Frost and Flame

Seated in this middle air

away from the warm

and deep evening life on the street,

an old tin ceiling forms and presses,

bends itself into a wall of wine.

Lines of glass bottles lit in tiny pinpoint

like so many buoys along a shoreline,

reflect in rosy pink roast beet cherry edged


in my glass,

and across the silver tin top of the bar,

soft glows over a grey glass sea.

Cool white starched linen lies

supine on my lap,

sliding up my bare knee

as I inch forward to see the garcon’s delivery.

Light catches in ice nestling oyster shells,

bare raw souls ready,

trembling ever so slightly,

to surrender in frost and flame.

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