Tag Archives: roanoke

Dance Card

10 May


Singing and vacuuming,

Mommy is dancing with the Electrolux.

She carries the cord

in great lasso loops in her left,

the carpet attachment

like a tiny bottom trawler in the right.

They dance the brown berber

back and forth,

rapture gathering within the clink of motes.

Her voice crests over

a high metallic unwinding whine.

The plug has popped out.

The attachment drops to the deck

in front of the stereo.

After selecting a new

scratchy popping

of needle on the groove,

she grabs my hand,

slips her low arm to

dance me round the room,

“I’ll be there…. “


turning me into

a rhythm,

her eyes are like black diamonds,

her laugh

like the blooming of a thousand birds of paradise,

hot and orange and open;

her smile is an archipelago sky.

“Darling …Reach out…come on girl…reach out to me”


arms a tangle,

she casts me off.

I’m breathless

like the Electrolux.

Dancing into the hall

she’s singing singing. . .

her siren self.

Beautiful dark haired mommy,

a most lovely island entire.

Funny waifish mer-mater

like a shock of iced whisky

flooded with two seconds after sweetness

a sailor’s soul floats in the love of you

for you are . . .

still there.


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.

Chicken Fried and Unsanctified

1 Feb

Sunday morning in Roanoke, I ventured downtown in search of a coffee shop. We have Starbucks in Lynchburg, but I somehow feel it doesn’t qualify. Not that I dislike my local Starbucks. I visit it daily. Coffee is sacred to me. I’m a night person who has risen pre-dawn against her will for the last quarter century, ten months out of the year. They know me well.

Venti Bold

Monday through Wednesday, red eye

For the rest of the blurred week, black eye.

At my mom’s house its raspberry decaf? Right.


That morning was also about trying to find a little peacefulness once again. My mom cannot connect with me without verbal communication. It’s impossible for her to just be in the same room with me in silence. It drives me insane. I can’t think. And as a non morning person for ALL of my life, I wonder what kind of “eye” four shots of espresso to a cup is.

So, I trekked down to Mill Mountain Coffee as early as I could manage. Once again, I couldn’t find a “Ryan cafe au lait”. He is the king of the baristas and no one can touch him. If I want a proper cafe au lait, I’ll have to drive nine hours to Ocraocoke to get it. Believe me, I’ve contemplated the drive.

Ending up at Mill Mountain with high expectations was a mistake; the morning went south from there. While I am able to excuse the poor cafe au lait making, I really can’t tolerate abrasively loud screeching laughter among late teen-aged baristas. It was early,on a Sunday, and they were waaaaay too happy and loud. She had one of those laughs that just crawls down into a person’s ear like those creatures from the Wrath of Khan, the ones that drove the crew of the Enterprise into automatonic murderous rages. I stayed for an hour and then I just couldn’t take it any longer. I even threw away the poor excuse for a red eye cafe au lait without finishing it. Mistake one. Bad coffee is better than no coffee, in the grand scheme of things.

So I searched for a new coffee place and drove around downtown Roanoke for literally 45 minutes. Nothing. Not any sort of a comfortable spot with wifi and a decent cuppa joe. On the fly then, I decided to just go eat breakfast. I had seen Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles the night before with my mom and had attempted to look up the brunch menu on the Internet. When I found an empty page, that should have been my first clue to turn back…but I didn’t.


What occurred at Thelma’s has to be the most hilariously pathetic excuse for a brunch I have ever encountered. I almost don’t want to write about it, but because I care about my possible readership’s palates, pocketbooks, and their health I will venture on into the abyss that is Thelma’s.

Let me preface this soapbox review by saying I know that what modern Americans regularly ingest as “food” is in direct opposition to my definition of edible substance. But I grew up with a granny that could cook and I know what home style food is. Freshly made southern home cooking and that is definitely NOT what Thelma’s serves.

I entered the bar area and ordered “the largest coffee you can muster”. I’m sorry.When a customer says that to you, you find the largest cup the kitchen has even if it’s a bowl. He brings me a diner mug, ignoring the twice as large Irish glass coffee mug hanging behind him and nothing else. I had asked for cream and artificial sweetener. He plunks down two plastic cuplets of creamer and a sugar shaker.

Okay… Strike one.

I ask him for a menu. This brilliant lad responds with, “You wanna eat here?” Even though he probably questioned whether I truly wanted to eat at the bar, I should have taken him seriously.

“Um…yeah”, I say. “That’s why I’m here at a bar at 10:30 on a Sunday morning.”

So I gaze at the menu and everything includes waffles on the side. I just want waffles, maybe with some eggs but just waffles. What kind of a restaurant that has waffles in the name does not serve waffles unless it’s a side? They serve pancakes solo. Why not (eureka moment) waffles?

I had to order the country ham platter with waffle on the side. Apples, not hash browns came next and no toast nor a biscuit, just a waffle.

He says, “No substitutions …I’ll have to charge you extra for the waffle.”

“Okay”, I say. I start a slow boil as I think, just bring me a damn waffle.

After three cups of watery coffee, for which I had to ask for cream three times, I finally get a platter.

Eggs, check.

Why is there a biscuit? strike two.

Why are there hash browns instead of apples? ball one.

And what the heck is this, I think in horror as I spy something that looks like onion rings.

“Excuse me”, I ask. “What is this?”

“That’s ham”, he says like I’m an idiot. “That’s good ham.”

“What? “I say incredulously, “It’s breaded. Why is my country ham … breaded?”

From the look of irritation on his face, I could tell that my question was a completely foreign concept to his mind. Why wouldn’t country ham be chicken fried? Jeez, lady aren’t you from the south? That’s what his look said to me as he turned around and walked away.

Strike Three. I’m outta here.

I began to laugh because I wanted to cry. I have spent my entire life in Virginia. I know cuisine better than 95 % of most Americans and I can cook it as well and you are trying to tell me that Smithfield country ham is meant to be chicken fried like a Walmart tater?

Riiiiiiighhht…Okay mon garçon.

I sent the hash browns back for the apples I ordered.

“Here”, he says. “Just keep them; it was the kitchen’s mistake.”

“No, you don’t understand”, I say. “I’m not going to eat them. I didn’t order them so that means I don’t want to eat them.”

He glares at me. “Eh, suit yourself”, he says.

I left the pre-frozen Pillsbury/ Sam’s Club biscuit on my plate, too. The eggs were real, I think, and the waffle I did eat with the margarine on top. It was the same kind of waffle you’d make yourself at the Hampton Inn when the continental breakfast is included with the 60 dollar a night room. But then, I tried the chicken fried ham… shudder. I’ll not regale you with details.

I paid eleven dollars for a meal I didn’t eat and then asked to use the restroom. All that coffee. Another nightmare awaited me because someone had become sick the night before and it had not been dealt with. The other stall had no locking mechanism; it swung open freely. As I exited with full bladder, I greeted the girl coming in behind me.

“Good luck.”

The only thing that could save the day was walking, a lot of it. And trying not to lose my cool that I had spent money in a place that wasn’t worthy to call itself anything beyond a glorified Waffle House, which shockingly serves waffles as a main course. I mean, Cracker Barrel even does that though crackers aren’t on the menu. But, I walked downtown Roanoke and took plenty of pictures, and went into the newly renovated market building. Next time I will go to Firefly Fare. Locally sourced, freshly made, hot and real, it was where I ought to have gone all along.

So you may say, Well, home cooking is like that Cyndi. What did you expect?

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected something like my granny’s gently fried country ham with red eye gravy nestled beside two scrambled eggs cooked in the same pan as the ham. Then, a Belgian waffle (made with egg whites whipped until stiff, but not dry and folded into the batter) lightly laced with syrup and cinnamon. It doesn’t have to be real maple but the kind that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient. I even may have expected an angel biscuit like Granny’s with damson or cherry preserves, that little bit of summer in a jar. Alongside it should be a coffee; even the kind Granny used a percolator to make would have done fine. Strong, clear and brisk with cream. That is what I expected. And although the morning did not give me the gift of a great coffee and stunning brunch, it did give me a memory of my granny’s hands, her blue rose apron, her warm kitchen and comforting table, and a memory of what home cooking ought to be. Maybe next time, I’ll just go to Granny’s and make her coffee and breakfast instead.

Un Ritmo Encontrar

30 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I do not know how to let a man lead.

It’s a fault, and I’ll admit it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Old Fashioned Snow

28 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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