7 Days in Tibet

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Aurua Tibetan Medicine Billboard in Caojiabao Airport in Xining

A hundred people or so mill drowsily about the baggage claim area at the Caojiabao Airport in Xining, China at 9:45 on a Sunday night waiting for the whirl of the conveyer belt to start again signaling the arrival of more baggage.  Mounted on the wall over the snake-like luggage delivery system hangs a dark red billboard touting  Arura Tibetan Medicines in large yellow characters and Latin letters. Arura with its medical college, traditional Tibetan medical hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturing company, chain of drug stores and Tibetan Cultural Museum is a big dollar industry in these parts and sponsor of my trip to the Tibetan Plateau. As I feebly stand with the group of seven other Americans that are with me on this junket, the effects of the 22 hour trip from Charlottesville and several bottles of water to keep hydrated on the plane take hold and I am called to visit the loo. Twenty feet from the Women’s Restroom door the sour smell of a Chinese bathroom assaults my nostrils and I recall the defining factor of travel in Asia – the toilets, or better put, the lack there of.

China and the United States are located on opposite sides of the planet and in many ways are as opposing in cultures.  What often is considered polite behavior in China is considered vulgar in the U.S. and vice verse. Value of space, time, material objects and food is dispersed differently making travel in each other’s country a mind-blowing experience. It is rather like turning one’s brain inside-out.

For all the differences between the United States and what is called mainland China, echoes of the traditional Tibetan nomadic way of life still heavily influence the social mores of the mixed Chinese/Tibetan populations on the Plateau. Xining is a bustling city that looks like Seattle with an Asian flair.  It is the capital and largest city of the the Qinghai province with a population just shy of 2,300,000 the vast majority of whom live inside the urban area. In fact one distinction of Xining is its lack of suburbs. Four minutes drive outside of the high-rises and one is amongst vast scrub covered fields with brownish mountains looming near by. Impressive in size by day, the city is best viewed at night when its heart is lit as brightly as Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World – a beacon in the vastness of the dark Plateau.

The view from my room at the top rated, Qinghai Hotel (thankfully, outfitted with Western style toilets in the posh marble bathroom) confirmed the density of the city. As a thread of cigarette smoke from a neighboring room sneaks in through my open window, I am reminded that the Chinese smoke like its 1965. Wafts of cigarette smoke are everywhere – restaurants, work spaces, even in elevators. But that doesn’t stop the residents of Xining from healthy activities like exercising which they do each morning and evening in public parks. The Qunghai Hotel is located next door to a major city park which stretches along the banks of the Huangshui River.  At seven in the morning music and news are broadcast all over the city via loudspeakers mounted on buildings marking the start of the day in a Communist Country.  People then flood the parks to power walk, jog, dance, practice tai chi and chi gong before heading to work. But the Chinese, unlike Americans, are much less serious about exercise and much more physically conservative. The gestures of the 100 or so participants  in the outdoor Zumba class I joined one evening, were so conservative the group more closely resembled small children learning ballet than grown women performing steamy Latin dance moves.

Due to its altitude (Xining is 7,464) the Tibetan Plateau is arid, low humidity and fairly cool temperatures so that even in July high temperatures hover between the mid-fifties and low-seventies dropping into the low-forties at night. So jackets and the consumption of several cups of Yak butter tea, a murky concoction that tastes like liquified buttered popcorn and is served everywhere in this part of China, are necessary for comfort.  Since very little vegetation grows in the climate the main native food sources are Yak (which tastes like a cross between beef and venison) and sheep. Even the Buddhist Monks eat loads of Yak and drink rivers of Yak butter tea dispelling a preconceived notion that Buddhists are automatically vegetarians. “What else would we eat, if we didn’t eat Yak?,” laughed our tour facilitator, Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsen, a Tibetan  Monk.

Most Westerners don’t visit Xining when traveling in this part of China usually heading directly to Lhasa but there are a few places that make it a worthwhile destination. One is the Qinghai Tibetan Medicine and Culture Museum which gives the visitor an idea of how the current culture was shaped. The museum houses artifacts like a complete set of Tibetan medical instruments and diorama’s of traditional nomadic life. The most spectacular display however is The Great Thangka, an impossibly long  (618 meter or 2018 feet)  painted history of Tibetan stories, religion, culture, medicine and art. Brilliantly displayed in a winding glass case, this masterpiece took 400 artists 4 years to complete and if one really examined each frame’s intricate details it might take 4 years to view.

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Entrance Hall at the Qinghai Tibetan Medicine and Culture Museum

Another important cultural site is Kumbum Monastery, one of the six most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries located twenty-six kilometers south of Xining. Once housing thousands of Buddhist Monks, Kumbum which means Image of a hundred-thousand Buddhas, is the birthplace of Lhama Tsong-kha-pa (1357 – 1419), the founder of the Yellow Hat Buddhist sect.  Legend has it that a sandalwood tree grew on the spot he was born with an image of the Buddha on each leaf. There is a small temple and incense burning stupa marking the. spot  Squeezing between multiple gaggles of visitors, through the Great Hall of Meditation where silk fabric hangs like Spanish Moss from the cross beams, I think about the 600 monks in current residence and what is must be like to live in such a huge tourist destination. With hundreds of people visiting daily, Kumbum is hardly the isolated, quiet retreat one might envision. In fact most Monks in the crowds surrounding us were quite well connected to the outside world via the magic of iPhones and iPads, the technology of choice due to its Tibetan language option.

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Tibetan Monk, Dr. Kunchok with i Phone at Kumbum

Since most of my time in Xining was spent indoors in meetings with our excellent Arura hosts, it was a wonderful treat to get outside for a lunch in the grasslands and a visit to the Qinghai Lake. On 100 km trip from Xining to “The Blue Lake” we stopped for a traditional Tibetan meal in a yurt-like tent. Tibetans, like many nomadic peoples, are warm, welcoming people who tote little furniture but who love to entertain. We sat on the grass floor of the tent at low tables, the wind flapping the thick canvas walls and were served course after course of Tibetan fare – in this culture more is more when it comes to food. Among the many dishes served up with Yak butter tea were sweet rice, a  rice dish with sugar,  droma (something like bean sized sweet potato) and Yak butter; fruits, vegetables, corn, dumplings with yak meat, lamb dishes and ingredients to make our own tsampa.  Tsampa is a staple of traditional Tibetan diet made from barley flour, yak butter, water or yak butter tea and sugar expertly mixed with the hands into a malleable dough ball and eaten. It is easy to make, portable and durable making it the ideal food for people on the go. Entertainment is an important part of the culture so after lunch we sang (I think there is a version of me trying to teach everyone to sing a round on YouTube somewhere- not worth watching) and learned Tibetan dance moves then took some time just laying in the long soft grass absorbing sunlight as the constant wind blew over our bodies.

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                                On the Tibetan Plateau

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      Making Tsampa at lunch

A short drive to the Blue Lake revealed a huge azure body of water covering over 1700 square miles fed by 23 rivers and streams. Though it was mid July, the water and the air are still too cool for swimming but given the distance of the ocean it is a hot vacation spot.  Though it is not overwhelmingly touristy, there are some hotels and campsites along the water’s edge in places with vendors waiting to take tourists money like any other resort. My favorite were the photo ops with a Yak which sadly I had to forgo in order to get to our farewell dinner back in the city.

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Blue Lake

The next day we began our travel to Lhasa. Many people think that taking the train to Lhasa is a romantic prospect or that a perceived gradual incline of the train route from Xining will help with adjustment to the altitude. Both of these concepts are a myths. For many Westerners who are accustomed to space and privacy, overnight travel on Chinese trains is grueling. Sleeper compartments accommodate six travelers in stacked bunk beds and are open to the hallway (no doors) so that any passer by has access. Toilets, which are thankfully private, are basically steel basins set in the floor that flush onto the train tracks on more modern trains and simply openings in the floor on older ones.  Sinks are in the hallway so that in the morning there is a symphony of loud hocking and spitting, a Chinese ritual for clearing the throat. In terms of altitude adjustment the train moves along at an almost level altitude until about halfway through the journey then makes a rapid ascent to 17,158 feet above sea level at the highest point then lowers to Lhasa (11, 450 feet above sea level) debunking the gradual climb altitude adjustment theory. 

In my case, the 23 hour train ride was booked for our group in order to see the grandeur of the great Tibetan Plateau and the budding of the Himalayas on the planes but at the last minute I was culled and sent on a train solo. Since the journey began at 10:00 o’clock at night, I saw only a few hours of stunning terrain in the morning hours before succumbing to altitude sickness which had me flattened on my middle level bunk without a view for the remaining 9 hours of the trip.

Arriving in Lhasa, I met Dolma, my charming Tibetan guide and chauffeured via van to the stunning St. Regis Lhasa Resort where I was greeted by name by every staff member I saw and escorted by Anthony, my St. Regis Butler, to a beautiful suite with a garden view.  The contrast between this sumptuous hotel and the stark utilitarian feel of the train put me in a state of mild awestruck shock. The St. Regis is a stellar example of how modern luxury can intermingle with native architecture and decor to create a tasteful, respectful environment to house sophisticated travelers. The design of the hotel itself is reminiscent of the Potala Palace with white stucco walls and dark tiled pagoda roof lines and there are gorgeous views of the actual Potala from the large picture windows in the lobby. Tibetan artifacts, Buddha sculptures, a mural of Lhasa and contemporary Tibetan themed paintings grace the lobby area lending a museum-like feel to the experience. A bath in the deep freestanding ceramic bathtub followed by a deep sleep snuggled between high count cotton sheets were much needed perks following the train ride and critical elements in perking me up for the following day’s sight seeing.

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Devotee turning prayer wheels at the Potala

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               Suite in the St. Regis in Lhasa

In the morning I walked with Tibetan Buddhist devotees around the parameters of the Potala, which for centuries was the home of the Dalai Lhama but vacated by the 14th Dalai Lhama who was exhiled duing the Tibetan uprising of 1959. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Potala is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists and several hundred circumambulate clockwise around the base of the palace each day often spinning the large brass prayer wheels that line almost half of the parameter as they go. I was too late to get tickets for an interior tour as they sell out fast so I headed to Jokhang Temple, a Buddhist monastery and sacred site that was once a palace built for the two wives of king Songsten Gampo in the 7th century. Jokhang stands out in the old part of Lhasa with its gleaming white walls and golden rooftop statues of deer flanking a Dharma wheel. Once the visitor enters through the courtyard, the temple becomes a dusky incense cured maze of chapels lined with tongkas and glass cased statues of deities illuminated with yak butter candles and lamps. People bring white or gold silk katas, flowers and money as offerings to the various gods to fulfill prayers. My last stop before a sumptuous traditional Tibetan feast in the Si Zi Kang restaurant at the St. Regis for the day is the Tsamkhung nunnery located on a skinny back street in historic Lhasa. Not a major tourist stop, it is a charming place with cheerful nuns working away at making jewelry and other small items to sell in the gift shop their major source of income yet holds the distinction of housing a precious statue of Gampo who died in 650AD. This is where I did the majority of souvenir shopping for folks back home, picking up some beautiful handmade pieces for considerably less than shops that line the streets or the open market place.

Needing a day of rest before the long journey back to the states, I spent the last day of my time in Tibet luxuriating at the St. Regis. And when it comes to luxury, the St. Regis knows how to do it right.  A tour of the property revealed that the property boasts 22 luxury guest rooms, 28 private villas and 2 very impressive apartment-like suites complete with stunning views, outdoor decks, full kitchens and dining areas and lavish master suites. A rare shallow pond graces the interior courtyard, the ions and humidity emitted from it supposedly offer healing properties in the dry climate. The gold-tiled indoor pool located in the full-service Iridium Spa also purportedly offers healing qualities. I enjoyed a private yoga session in the Spa’s yoga studio then an excellent hot-stone massage at the to get the travel kinks out of my system before embarking on the 32 hour journey back to Charlottesville, Virginia the next day. I ended my day in Decanter, the Haut-Brisson designed wine bar. Good wine is rare in China, thus the Decanter is place to begin my transition back to Western life. Sitting outside on the garden deck, I sip an excellent Bordeaux and contemplate the joys and challenges of the last seven days. A giggle emerges as I realize a newfound appreciation for Western plumbing that will carry me cheerfully through the experience of an airplane restroom on a long flight in the coming hours.

Would I be willing to return to the so-called rooftop of the world despite the sketchy restroom situation? Undoubtedly, yes.

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Tibetan artifacts in the lobby at the St. Regis in Lhasa

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Cville Sabroso coming up this weekend

This Saturday is the Second Annual Latin American Festival of Performance Visual Arts & Food will be at the McGuffy Center in Charlottesville from 11am – 6pm.

Here is the link for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/1437663096514262/

Festivals, festivals and more festivals in Central Virginia

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It is officially Festival season here is Central Virginia with another successful Lockin’ just ended, this week Monticello, Staunton Performing Arts Center and Charlottesville Chamber Music all have festivals that include a food and gardening, performing and fine arts and well, chamber music (as you may have guessed) themes.

For information about these events, click on the associated links below.  

Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival:

http://2014.cvillechambermusic.org/shop/sp

 

Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello:

http://www.monticello.org/site/visit/heritage-harvest-festival-monticello

 

Pac’n the Streets Festival in Staunton:

http://www.stauntonperformingarts.org/news-and-events/2014-events/35-pacn-the-street-2014

So much fun to be had so have some and get out there and get cultured.

Mary

The Culture Maven

Heirloom foods available for tasting at the Heritage Harvest Festival

Heirloom foods available for tasting at the Heritage Harvest Festival

WNRN Culture Connection for August 11 – 17

Oh my, what a week!  There is improv, a foodie tour of Shockoe Slip and a performance of the children’s classic introduction to classical music, Peter and the Wolf. To listen to this week’s Culture Connection via podcast click on the podcast triangle below.  To learn more about the featured events, click on the links provided under each.

Peter and the Wolf:

 

http://charlottesvillearts.org/calendars/all-events/
Bent Hunger Games Improv:

http://benttheatre.weebly.com

 

Capital of Cuisine food tour of Shockoe Slip:

http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/559615

 

I will be going to ASC this weekend to see Cyrano on Saturday then heading to Richmond on Sunday for Old Crow Medicine Show at Maymont. Let me know what you did this week to get Cultured.

Best,

The Culture Maven

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Waking up

February is over!  Thank goodness.

Though it is the month of my birth which brings me joy and the shortest month of the year, February in Virginia always seems long and generally miserable.  I did have some great adventures even though I failed to muster the energy to blog about them via this site.  I had a fabulous Birthday Celebration at Glass House Winery in Free Union, Va.  The greenhouse room is filled with tropical plants and is a great mini-escape from the cold, drabness of winter plus the fabulous wine and house made designer chocolates warm the tastebuds.  I also went cross-country skiing for the first time at Kripalu in Lenox, Ma.  To learn about that journey click here. Otherwise until last week, I laid pretty low.

So what happened last week?

category_21_2277One of the cool people I met skiing is Sarah Cohen, President of Route 11 Potato Chips which just happens to be located in Mt. Jackson, Va., about an hour and fifteen mins from my home in Charlottesville (what are the chances, right?).  Route 11 Potato Chips are organic, kettle -cooked potato chips that are distributed nationally, mostly in boutique markets and gourmet shops.  They are DELICIOUS! and Sarah is totally fabulous so I took a road trip up to see her and visit the factory.  It is really a cool place and I got a VIP tour of the potato chip making process.  Route 11’s process is innovative because it is set up linearly meaning each part of the process from washing potatoes to packing bags of freshly cooked chips happens in a line.  The linear process helps cut on energy used to make the chips which is good for keeping manufacturing costs low and saving the planet.  They also have a “no waste” facility which means they capture and repurpose waste materials like dirt and water from washing potatoes, potato peels and bits of chips and uncooked chips. The dirt gets composted and area gardeners and farmers can come and get it to fertilize plants.  All the leftover potato stuff goes to a local farmer who uses it to supplement his cow’s diets etc. It was a really fun visit. I am actually eating some Route 11 Sweet Potato chips right now- YUM!

Thursday night I attended the Love Feast, a cabaret style celebration of love and fundraiser for the 8th grade class at Tandem Friends School. Why is this included in an arts and culture blog?  Because even though Tandem is a small school of about 220 students stretched over 5th through 12th grades and this was just middle schoolers performing, there is an astounding amount of talent. All the kids were great, including my own little darling playing with her band.

Friday night I saw Monuments Men. My take on it: Don’t bother. This seems to be a film geared towards old farts.  It is slow moving, the script is choppy and the audience is never really engaged with the characters making moments that are supposed to be poignant simply schmaltzy. John Goodman and Bill Murray seemed bored out of their minds. Their line delivery so rote and unrealistic it seemed they might have deigned to glance at the script before shooting the scenes – or maybe they were actually reading off prompt boards, who knows it was just terrible.

Saturday night was devoted to the Financial Aid Fundraiser for Tandem Friends School.

Sunday I took a road trip to Richmond with my pal, actor/singer, Doug Schneider, to see Cadence Theatre Company’s production of Clybourne Park.  It was an exceptional production! I love the play and these actors, deftly directed by Keri Wormald, were in the moment from beginning to end yielding some of the best performances I have yet to see in Richmond. I must particularly mention David Bridgewater because, as a theatre critic, I have railed on him many times for being more about his ego than actually acting but he was astounding as Russ in the first act and marvelous as Dan in the second act. His performances were genuine and convincing, truly good acting.  Big kudos to you David and to Keri for bringing it out in him- and all of the cast for that matter.  The pacing was perfect, blocking spot on.  Just a privilege to be in the audience witnessing a beautifully executed work of live art.

I will mention all of the cast in this post because they are not listed on the Cadance website and they deserve to be acknowledged: Katie McCall, Tyra D Robinson, Steve Perigard, Thomas E. Nowlin, McLean Jesse, Andrew Firda (first time I had seen him on stage and he was fabulous!) and Daniel Allen.

The show runs through March 15 so get your tickets now- it is a small house. For more info click here.

Post show, Doug and I went to Max’s, a new restaurant  on Broad Street near the November Theatre formerly known as the Empire. From the moment I stepped in the door I felt transformed to one of those comfy older French bistro’s in Manhattan with the octagon tile floors and iron, wood and brass elements in the decor. We sat upstairs and enjoyed a sumptuous meal of French Onion Soup and Cock au Vin with ricotta and fig crepes for dessert. Alex, our waiter was an impeccable server, friendly, efficient and informative without being intrusive. It was a wonderful experience and I WILL be back.

Home then the Oscars.

Now it is snowing so it looks like a Lasagna day at home.  March is truly coming in like a lion to Central Virginia. Stay safe and warm and pray for warm weather soon.

Best,

Mary

The Culture Maven

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully Stuffing My Face

I really like food.  I adore really good food.  Since the last couple of weeks has been about good food and some of Charlottesville’s rather Anglophile traditions I have been fatly happy.

It all began on Friday the 22nd with a business dinner at Fleurie, one of Charlottesville’s finest restaurants and a particular favorite of mine because the owner/very talented chef, Brian Helleburg, is one of the first friends I made after moving here about 2.5 years ago while working on a story for VIRGiNIA LIVING. Brian cooked up some Chinese Mystery snails for a story I wrote on invasive species and I knew right then that a guy who could make those things taste good was someone worthy of pal-dom.

Anyway…

The crab appetizer was divine.  Served on an elegant skinny rectangular plate, substantial chunks of sweet blue crab meat swam in a shallow pool of some yummy sauce.  I followed up with the venison, two tender, juicy medallions that melted in my mouth served over thinly sliced potatoes au gratin (because I don’t eat spatzel which I love but contains gluten). It is a rare meal that is prepared with such perfection and really I would marry Brian if I could eat like that everyday but I’m afraid his girlfriend might not like that.

Saturday found me at a tourist standard, Michie Tavern, on 53 on the way to Monticello.  It was my sister’s birthday celebration and she wanted to eat there (she is from out of town) and visit Carter Mountain Orchard.  Michie Tavern serves plain old Southern fare, like spoon bread, fried chicken and green beans boiled with ham for flavoring.  I grew up on this type of food so it is hardly a delicacy for me but I can see the appeal to foreigners and the nostalgia this type of cooking holds for my sister.  We sat at a long wooden table in front of a roaring fire, the perfect place to be on a chilly autumn day while being served by a woman in colonial garb.  It is all quite charming.

Following the obligatory cider purchase at Carter Mountain and sufficiently celebrating my sister, I dropped my daughter off at her friend’s house to watch the season opener of DR. WHO and went for a short hike.  Evening plans included dinner next to a roaring fire, this time in the bar at Keswick Hall.  I adore this particular venue for cold weather dinners because one may choose from the bar menu (which offers the best truffle oil fries I have ever tasted) or the dinner menu from Fosset’s, Keswick’s more formal dining area.  The bar is intimate and cozy and there is a lovely fire place to make it even cozier.  I dined on muscles in tomato broth and seared brussel sprouts which were so good – just tender on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside- that my escort, who is not particularly a veggie fan, devoured at least half of the ample serving. After dinner we sauntered across the street to the Keswick Hunt Club (my friend is a member) for the tail end of a clam bake and dance party.  We danced to about 7 songs before the party shut down and it was time to head home.

Sunday I attended the final performance of BYE BYE BIRDIE at Tandem Friends School. The play was performed solely by TFS eighth graders offering a variety of skill and enthusiasm levels making the show a total hoot to watch.  Director and Middle School drama teacher, Lydia Horan, is brilliantly talented and somehow is able to get these young teens to put together a pretty good show.

The next event on my calendar was Love Cannon at the Jefferson Theatre on Wednesday the 27th.  I took my daughter and we delighted in the catchy, kitchy-ness of ’80’s pop tunes orchestrated to blue grass instruments.  It is just such happy music one MUST move to it.

Thursday morning I experienced another horsey tradition, the Blessing of the Hounds at Grace Church in Keswick before the annual Thanksgiving Fox Hunt.  People gather in front of the adorable stone church as mounted riders are blessed along with the hounds.  There is a ten minute ceremony then the riders, all dolled up in their English hunting costumes, head across rt.22 to a large field, give out some awards, then when the hunt master gives the signal, begin their ride. Apparently they actually hunt wild foxes. What happens to the fox or foxes once they are caught is unknown to me and I thought it impolite to ask at the time.  The event is pretty and pastoral and it is my dream to go out with them one year.

Thanksgiving dinner in Richmond at my sisters. Yum. Then on Friday, dinner of peanut soup (a personal favorite dish) and salad at TJ’s at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond before celebrating Chanukah at Virginia Rep’s production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. This was my friend, Christina’s first visit to the Jefferson (she lives in Charlottesville and her daughter, Mila shares the part of one of the daughters in the show) so I was reminded through her eyes of the splendor of the place.

It was fun to see FIDDLER during Chanukah.  It just added extra meaning to the story. Va Rep even had a menorah displayed in the theatre lobby which I found quite touching and thoughtful. I enjoyed the show, particularly David Benoit’s embodiment of Tevya, the choreography and the dancing. Everyone on stage looked like they were having fun.  At the end of the show, I chatted with WCVE theatre critic, the formidable John Porter, who said this was the best production of FIDDLER he had ever seen.

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I laid low the remainder of the weekend, hiding from the shopping crowds venturing out (other than for long walks) only for groceries on Sunday and to be interviewed about Radio Resource (a partnership between Music Resource Center and WNRN designed to give MRC members and other high school aged kids the opportunity to generate a half-hour radio program featuring music created by local teens) before the premier of the 30 Minute Throwdown on WNRN. Damani Harrison of MRC was supposed to be on the show but he was caught up in holiday travels making it impossible for him to be there so as a coordinator of the project, I filled in. 30 Minute Throwdown is full of youthful energy and showcases some amazing young local artists. You can learn more by going to the 30 Minute Throwdown FB page.  By the way, Trader Joe’s has outdone themselves with holiday treats this year, especially the caramels- go for them.

So until next week…be safe, be healthy and have fun.

Gratefully,

Mary

The Culture Maven

Food and Games sums up Last Week’s Adventures

It is miraculous how a rainy, chilly weekend can erase one’s memory of a busy week.  So it was with me this past weekend with only one event on my calendar but last week was quite busy as I reflect on it for this post.

It all started with a viewing of ENDER’S GAME at the beautiful, still new to us Cvillians, Stonefield Regal Cinemas  on Monday evening to top off Veterans Day off from school for my daughter.  Stonefield is stadium seating and vastly cleaner and better smelling than any other movie theater in town.  I adore it.

Tuesday’s outing included a tuna melt and chic pea with kale soup lunch at FEAST one of my favorite lunch spots.  Feast is a gourmet market and sandwich shop with a casual atmosphere located on Main Street.  The food is good, the people are friendly and the selection in the market is mouthwatering. Tuesday night was a huge sports night because the darlings of my alma mater, THE VCU RAMS, played the UVA HOOS in basketball for the first time in 15 years.  There once was a basketball rivalry between the schools so I enjoyed a perverse pleasure in wearing my VCU scarf (which resembles a Hufflepuff scarf from the Harry Potter series) all day, proudly flaunting it at McGrady’s in the evening during the neck-and-neck game.  Alas, I missed the final winning shot in the last second which made VCU the victors of the game but was even happier the following day flaunting my team scarf once again.

Wednesday was cold here in Cville so lamb curry form JUST CURRY on the downtown mall was the perfect lunch.  It is fast food at its finest, inexpensive, healthy, locally owned and yummy.  In the afternoon I ran into my dear friend and Tibetan Monk, Dr. Kunchock on the mall while on my way to have tea at the TWISTED BRANCH TEA BAZAAR with a client.  Dr. K. was the designated tour organizer and escort for the trip I took to Xining, Tibet over the summer.  He is here visiting with other VIP’s from the Arura Tibetan Medical Group to help move the cause (building a Tibetan Medical Center here) along and to speak about Tibetan Medical practices at the UVA Medical School. I saw him and the others at former Mayor, David Brown’s home at a reception for the Tibetan group on Thursday night along with other local luminaries.

Friday morning I accepted a fabulous invitation from an old friend to have a massage and lunch at THE BOAR’S HEAD.  The massage was fantastic and I didn’t want to get off the table when it was finished.  The spa is comfortable and resembles the SPA AT THE WILLIAMSBURG INN but on a much smaller scale.  Lunch is a buffet with mostly Southern type fare like peanut soup (with a little spice – it was really good) and Chicken in a corn sauce. It was perfectly lovely but outside of the soup nothing to write home about in terms of a Foodie experience. I would cheerfully go back for dinner to sit next to the fireplace and definitely return to the spa to try some other treatments to see how they stand up to Keswick or The Homestead.

The remainder of the weekend was chill until Sunday afternoon when I attended a gallery event at Chroma on the Down Town Mall.  Alex Nyerges of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts gave a short talk.  Food from Tastings and wine from wine from Early Mountain Vineyards were featured at the event.  All of the food contained gluten so I cannot tell you how it was though the crab dip radiated an aroma that permeated the gallery. The wine was very good. With that I took my grumpy (chilly rain does that to me) self home and watched Public Television all night while my daughter worked on a term paper.

Hopefully this week will be a tad slower but you never know.  There are lots of theatre dates to be made for the holidays.

Until next week…

Get out there are get cultured!

Mary

The Culture Maven

 

Film, Food, MoFo’s and Ham

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Charlottesville is a cool place to live because we some big city entertainment coupled with small town living.  Last week’s big city type entertainment was the Virginia Film Festival, an event that takes over our little village attracting people from all over the country to C-ville for 100 movies in 4 days.

I for one enjoy the people watching during this event usually more than the films themselves and somehow the VFF always falls on a weekend when I have fifty other obligations, limiting my ability to participate.  So this is how the weeks shook down in terms of my Arts & Culture experience:

On Wednesday I lunched at Farm as I waited to ambush Matthew Slatts, Executive Director of the Bridge Arts Center. Farm is a sandwichy/ salady type place that offers fresh food mostly locally sourced and a good selection of beers and wine.  It is charming and the noodle salad I pulled from the ready-mades cold case was delish.  A great place for a nice lunch and plenty of sunny outdoor seating.

Wednesday night I worked on my Bachata moves at Charlottesville Salsa Club’s Bachata night at club M&M.

Thursday was the first day of the VFF- good crowd watching on the Downtown Mall.  My daughter and I went to see the Lighthouse Films since she was a student over the summer.

Friday night was a family road trip to Staunton to the American Shakespeare Center with friends to see (for me a repeat viewing, I liked it so much the first time) RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET.  Every body LOVED it and I won a raffle ticket for answering a trivia question correctly. (yeah!)  The show is in its final weeks, closing at the end of November to make room for the three Christmas themed shows presented in December.

Saturday morning found me directing traffic at the Tandem Tag Sale which was a mother load of treasures.  If you missed it this year be sure to go next year because there is always some gooooood stuff for amazing prices.

Then a visit to the VFF Family day at UVA near the Culbreth theater.  All I am saying is work is needed on this event.

The next stop was one of my fav eateries – The Flat, behind the Jefferson Theater, for crepes al fresco then to Pearl’s Bake Shoppe for apple cider donuts. The Flat make fat savory or sweet crepes and is loved for the fresh local ingredients, ample portions and great prices.  It is fast food that is truly good for you. I had a veggie on buckwheat crepe – yummy.

Saturday night found me at the Downtown Grille for a quick drink and a sumptuous crab cake appetizer before popping over to Live Arts for closing night of MOTHER F**CKER WITH A HAT. The script itself was so-so with a superfluous final scene that watered down what might have been a spectacular ending but Ike Anderson as Jackie, the central character put in a dynamic performance.

Sunday was another VFF day which culminated for me and my daughter with the documentary, BIBLE QUIZ, about a bible quiz team and the personal dynamics of said team over the course of a critical competition.  Who even knew there was such a thing as Bible Quiz?  Somebody I guess…  We liked the film and were sad we missed so many other films due to scheduling or rating issues.

Sunday night we drove to Richmond for Hamaganza rehearsal in preparation for the last Hamaganza fundraiser for Feedmore ever.  Mark your calendars for December 13 & 14 to witness what is sure to be the most debauched, sophomoric and pathetic Hamaganza of all time – because some legends deserve to go down in flames.

Hopefully things will slow down a tad this week but you just never know what invitations might pop up!

Get out there and get Cultured, Ya’ll.

Best,

The Culture Maven

Local Road Tripping

I thought it had been a quiet week but when I checked my calendar to write this blog I realized why I am so behind on the book project.

But first, I must share that the Charlottesville location of Pearl’s Bake Shoppe has made three glorious additions to its gluten free menu: 1. sweet potato biscuits with real Virginia ham and …2. pumpkin doughnuts and apple cider doughnuts – these are cakey, tasty treats that I could eat every day. The apple cider doughnuts are particularly welcomed because Carter Mountain Orchard has really good glutenous apple cider doughnuts and now those of us who reject gluten can eat apple cider doughnuts with some level of abandon at Pearl’s.

Other than an update on deliciousness at Pearl’s, the only thing to write about before Friday is my lunch at the The Daily Kitchen on Wednesday while in Richmond on business for WNRN.  Yes, it looks as though it is my new Richmond fav but on the  pain of being boring I may have to take a break from TDK and try somewhere else when next in RVA.  My lunch of a vegetable panini was scrumptious but the side order of brussels sprouts upstaged the yummy sandwich to become the star of the afternoon.  Slightly crisp on the outside while slightly tender on the inside these mini-cabages come swimming in a sauce that reminds me of the stuff served with Vietnamese spring rolls – sort of yellow with flecks of hot red pepper, you know the one.  Anyway… that sauce sets of the tartness of the sprouts perfectly and seriously, I could eat a pound of them for lunch all by themselves.

On Friday morning I ventured to Staunton to see ROMEO AND JULIET at the American Shakespeare Center.  Well, I say I went to see the play but that is only partly true.  I went to see Gregory Jon Phelps play Mercutio as I had it from a reliable source that his performance was worth the effort.  And it was.  Mr. Phelps is blossoming into a great actor and he and the ever hilarious Benjamin Curns, who plays Juliet’s Nurse, mop up the stage!  In fact I wish I had left after Mercutio’s death as the play is mostly spent on Romeo and Juliet following which proved anti-climactic – not so good in a tragedy – but all teenagers should see this play.

Friday night was a Kizumba lesson taught by Edwin Roa at The Dance Spot.  I had never tried kizumba before and had a little trouble understanding the timing at first but Edwin is such a great teacher, I think I got it after a short while. The Latin-American theme continued through the evening at Firefish Gallery which was hosting a Dias de les Muertes Party for First Fridays Art Walk.  The fabulous Sigrid, Mistress of Firefish, served skull cookies and encouraged patrons to dress up for the occasion.  She leant me a fantastic lion mask she made and at the end of the evening we all marched through the streets to Bon following Chicho Lorenzo carrying a very large paper mache skull lit with glow sticks.  It was all great fun but BREAKING BAD was calling me and by 9:00pm I was in my jammies taking in three more episodes putting me at S:3, E9.

There is nothing like leaning on a whitewashed fence rail on a splendid autumn day in a fabulous hat watching horses fly over boxwood jumps- which is exactly what I did on Saturday at the Montpelier Races.  My dear friend, Howell Taylor, included me on his guest list to indulge in fine food and wine and good company on the rail at the last turn of the steeplechase course. It was a perfect day, warm sunny for the most part with the leaves on the surrounding forrest of trees ever so slightly on the back end of their peak colors. Howell then hosted a chili dinner and bonfire party on his beautiful farm.  A good time was had by all.  Of course I was home by 10:30 and squeezed in one episode of BB before hitting the hay.

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Fox at Montpelier Races

Staunton called me back on Sunday for a breakfast burrito (with sausage from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms – YUM!) at Cranberries and another show at ASC, this time to enjoy another Phelps performance (and pecks) as Troilus in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. This time John Harrell came to the forefront in performance as Pandarus with Phelps again commanding the stage.  The play ends weirdly though leaving several loose ends which may explain its failure to be often produced.

Tonight my daughter and I will be plotting our course for the Virginia Film Festival next weekend, creating a schedule to best meet our film viewing needs including seeing her film screening at the Lighthouse showings on Saturday morning.

Take care, have a great week and get out there and get cultured, ya’ll.

Best,

Mary

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture Maven experiences a different kind of Culture

OMG it has happened.  I have taken the leap and become an addict- not of drugs but of THE show about drugs.  Oh all you white (see Honest Trailer’s Breaking Bad for this reference- if you like the show you will laugh yourself silly) people out there know what I am taking about…

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I know I am on the back end of that trend but like all those poor junkies on the show and Walt himself in his growing need for excitement and power, I am hooked.  And also like junkies of all kinds, I have sacrificed all other things to enjoy my addiction of choice.  So this past week I wallowed in the culture of BReaking BAd and did nothing remotely cultural with the exception of lunch at The Daily Kitchen in Richmond (The BLT is truly fabulous, Yo.) which is proving to be another addiction all by itself since I have been there twice in 8 days and I live an hour’s drive away AND attended a friend’s dance party and potluck (The latter seemingly the only way people have parties in Charlottesville so in my book it counts as a cultural thing.  I adore my friends and am grateful to be invited anywhere but this potluck thing gets old pretty fast.  Why is it that Charlottesvillians have some aversion to supplying food to their guests? The laid back no fuss attitude perhaps?).

I watched 4 episodes on Friday night alone and one more last night while my daughter was at her Martial Arts lesson bringing me into the first E1: S3.  I think, though, that I am starting to “get” fellow Richmond native, Vince Gilligan’s storytelling sense and am less surprised by things that happen in the script but perhaps he will keep surprising me like with the airplane crash.

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