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I took the job writing Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond for Globe Pequot Press only after I had flipped through several of GPP’s books on other cities–Pittsburgh, Nashville, Baltimore–and was happy to see chapters related specifically to each city’s strengths and relieved to see that some personality was allowed in the write-ups. Until fairly recently my personality consisted only of sneers and snark, with occasional bits of poignancy and regular chocolate cravings, but on Richmond’s behalf, I brought out the long-repressed cheerleader portion of me.  (There will be no photos. Um, you know there never were any. I played basketball.)

I cringe every time I see RVA touted as capital of you know what. That is old news. I’m tired that others frame Richmond in the national media by leading with Capital of Confederacy…even if the gist of the article is that the writer is pleasantly surprised that we aren’t still unsheathing our swords, toiling at in-town plantations, and wearing hoop skirts.  I’m not ignorant or naive enough to think the effects of the Civil War, slavery and their aftermath aren’t factors in Richmond and the entire country, but we really aren’t living in an ante-bellum time warp. Writers who live elsewhere still can’t quite believe that about us. 

Exhibit 1 NY Times: 36 Hours in Richmond  A great article chock full of good stuff, but the first phrase sends a saber through my gut.

Exhibit 2 Washington Post Food shops More worthwhile picks from someone who likes us but didn’t move here because of those statues. Sigh.

Exhibit   3 Southern Charm with an Edge.   Glad there’s good info here, but still sigh at the Yankee/Confederate business. We aren’t the Confederate capital anymore–haven’t been for a while–though James J. Kilpatrick didn’t help Richmond’s cause by being at the forefront of Massive Resistance in the 1960’s.  Glad I missed that.  

In outlining the book, I thought long and hard about how best to show off Richmond.  I’ve lived here since 1992 and have seen such improvements in the arts, outdoors, university, and culinary scenes, just to name a few, that I knew I’d have no problem filling 200 pages (the original amount called for that–it came in around 300). I had editorial freedom, so I pushed artsy, outdoorsy, culinary, rivery, quirky Richmondy treasures. I didn’t ignore history, far from it, but there’s so much more than Confederate history here.  Maggie L. Walker’s site is a revelation as is the Richmond Slave Trail. And how about Patrick Henry at St. John’s and TJ”s Capitol? I could write several chapters about all the cool places to visit. Oh, I did. VMFA, art galleries up the wazoo, adventure sports playland, trails for running, hiking and mountain biking, Class IV rapids through downtown. Jazz, opera, ballet, contemporary dance, symphony, theaters, music clubs, architecture, and a thriving and expanding ethnic scene, too. And lots of great places to eat in authentic, i.e. not chain, settings. The place sells itself if you let it.

I’m also tired of seeing pieces in national outlets (like a recent one on that says stay at Hope & Glory Inn in Richmond????) full of errors that make it clear the person hasn’t been here. A piece from Reuters recently suggested an itinerary where you’d go to the Charles City County plantations to spend the day, making it seem like you can eat at them–you can’t–and then suggested having dinner overlooking the water at the Boathouse….ok sounds good…at Sunday Park in Chesterfield County.  Perfectly nice place, but if you are out Route 5 well east of Richmond and want to come back this way and eat on the water, you go to the Boathouse at Rockett’s Landing which actually is on the James River.   A spectacular setting. Any tourist would be peeved to learn after the fact that they drove 40 extra miles to overlook a reservoir. Ok, I’ll stop now. I think my personality has reverted back to its origins.

A parlor game I play these days is making up tourism slogans for Richmond because Easy to Love just doesn’t say anything particularly compelling.  After another dispiriting article in yesterday’s Times Dispatch where city and county planners didn’t have anything nice to say about the suburbs, yet more of them mentioned Hanover County (and Henrico and Chesterfield) than the city(perhaps because 1/10 of the planners were from Hanover), my friend Leigh Ann suggested Richmond, the thinking person’s Mechanicsville.  We should trademark it immediately.  The best suggestion from the VCU class mentioned in the article was to put a big ole Hanover tomato sculpture along I-95. Then we could start the debate about what would represent the other “soulless suburbs.” That would be so much fun. Sprawl as art. Hmm.  I’d like to see a big Robert Indiana HERE in Richmond and There? for the counties.

In an actual example of a no-brainer, I’ve crafted a sure-fire slogan for Richmond: Hey, Everybody! Richmond isn’t on the worst cities for bedbugs list!!!!   It’s true. But I warn you, just clicking here will make you itchy and give you the heebeejeebees, if not bedbug bites per se.

If you happen to live in or around Richmond, you’re likely hot, too, and it’s possible you’ve come across the most recent issue of  R•Home .  You know, you really should buy it. I don’t know who could resist this cover:

You don't want to miss this--

Ok, if Maureen Egan’s Hot Fun in the Summertime line sells more copies than usual, I’m wondering what demographic they’ve started to target. I’m worried. But it’s good for a chuckle any day.  I won’t give away my latest At Home column’s subject matter, but let’s just say the title (which I did not write) is just a tad misleading.

My idea of hot summer fun is actually blueberry picking at Swift Creek Berry Farm on Genito Rd. in Chesterfield County. It’s one of the rare times I’m happy to venture down the Powhite past Rt.288. It’s my favorite place for blueberries because their high bushes produce blueberries that are as good as real honest-to-goodness New Jersey blueberries–and I don’t mean the ones that are mass-produced in Hammonton, NJ. These suckers take me back to the blueberries of my  Cape May, NJ summers of yore.  They are perky and tasty and blue.

I picked every last one of 'em.

What more could you want from a food that isn’t chocolate? To my way of thinking, there just isn’t enough blue food in the world–and I don’t mean fake blue food. There’s too much of that.

Some people I know, some I even consider friends, think blueberries are not worth the picking. They believe blueberries are available in the local grocery store. There are blue berries there, but if you want blueberries that taste like blue food is supposed to taste like, i.e. not bland, then you are going to have to go pick them yourself or find a good farmers’ market.  I have it on faith that Swift Creek Berry Farm will sell its berries at  St. Stephen\’s Farmers\’ Market if you are not inclined to do the picking yourself. I won’t think that ill of you.  But don’t expect to see your name on the cover of a mag until you do some not so heavy lifting. Here I will admit to employing a device that goes beyond the pale (haha–old Irish reference yet a pun on pail as in plink, plank, plunk of Blueberries for Sal–Can you tell I was an English major? Try to keep up.) of hot summertime fun activity.  Due to the ingeniousness of my pal Amy, when we go picking, we bring along luggage straps with two clips on them so we can suspend the bucket from the strap around our necks and pick with two hands. Thankfully no photos exist showing this device in action. I’m pretty sure we looked hot though. At least now you get the picture of what hot summertime fun really is all about though to further confuse the issue, none of this blueberry stuff has anything to do with the column I wrote for the Hot Issue, so you still need to buy it.

Not to overwhelm you with fun or be bossy or anything, but to fully participate in my hot summer fun, you need to take your fresh-picked blueberries and go home and make (and eat) Blueberry Salsa Salad. It’s almost as fun to say as it is to eat.  That and some good bread and you have a perfect summertime dinner that isn’t hot at all.

I’m back!



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