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Monument Avenue is back in the news–for the always exciting Ukrop’s 10k (presented by Martins) this past Saturday that featured 80, 000+ feet going forward on 40,000+ competitors–and possibly 1 giant step backward if Art 180’s legally permitted exhibit What Do You Stand For? is bullied off the block by April 6th instead of being allowed to stay through May 4th as agreed to originally. Apparently complaints from a few well-placed Monument Avenue residents, one of whom called Art 180’s vibrant and colorful and moving exhibit disgraceful, have triggered a revocation of their permit. Wow. That guy can’t see the grace in this exhibit for the dis in his own eye.

Monument Avenue has gorgeous architecture along it–including the amazing Branch House, The Virginia Center for Architecture–a wide median with trees, and those durned statues. Those statues are symbols of  a Richmond set in its way, stuck in the past, standing still, looking backward, clinging to an unjust past. I much prefer an avenue with actual people and dogs out there walking and running, doing a yoga flash mob, painting plein air, being enlightened and inspired by the art and words of these young artists. This exhibit,exquisitely well-timed to include the Monument Ave 10k and Easter on Parade, gives the artists taught by Art 180 staff the chance to have their powerful, vibrant, and meaningful art showcased for thousands of people. This is where the new Richmond–artful, creative, vibrant, all-embracing–is on display.

Can you say juxtaposition?

From a Close Up on Monument Ave. on p. 159 in Insiders’ Guide to Richmond–written by yours truly:

“And then there are those six statues, of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E. B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Arthur Ashe. What started as a way to memorialize the Confederate past while jump-starting development to the west of town  in the late 19th and early 20th centuries took on a life of its own, mythologizing the Lost Cause. For the record, the vast majority of people in and around Richmond do not venerate those dead Confederate guys. We mostly joke about them or ignore them and the no left turn signs at some of their intersections. It is no joke that they represent a painful past that Richmond and the rest of the country is still coming to grips with. They do add focal points and drama to the avenue, and sometimes even a protest or two. In 1968, Helen Marie Taylor took a stand against a paving machine that would have covered the original Belgian blocks on the road. She jump-started the movement to preserve and protect the Avenue’s unique character.”

Protests and advocacy got Arthur Ashe’s statue added in 1996. Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. there’s an art walk scheduled to start at the Lee Monument to celebrate Art 180’s exhibit.

Wow. More of this--not less!

It’s an exciting, art-filled time in Richmond with the G40 murals going up downtown now, the Street Festival mural project coming up April 12-14th and What Do You Stand For? in the middle of Monument Ave. I stand for it staying and for more creative and all-embracing uses of Monument Ave. to make it a place that celebrates all Richmonders. That’s a cause worth fighting for.

Continuing my Twitter RVA Holiday Gift Guide from an earlier post:

Holidays#rva Gift Guide #13 Cool books and jewelry from@Va_Architecture What will those architects think of next?http://twitpic.com/7svsli

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #14 Chocolates from @GearhartsRVA@LibbieGrove See the gingerbread house, too! The sum is yum!http://twitpic.com/7t7uoa

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #15 A stay at a @HistoricRicInns Lovely B&BS that are getaways in the middle of go-to places!http://twitpic.com/7tnalt

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #16 Dreaming of a Light Christmas?Take someone to @lewisginter GardenFest of Lights MT @rvanewshttp://rvanews.com/features/gardenfest-of-lights-in-beautiful-pictures/54263

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #17 Insiders’ Guide to Richmond available at @FountainBkstore & Chop Suey Books Read it & leap!http://twitpic.com/7ulq1e

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #18 @vmfa membership so no one will have blue Christmas–Elvis will be in the bldg Dec. 24-March 18, FYI.

Holiday RVA Guide #19 Hanukkah candy: pretty sight-a better bite! Easy to buy @ For the Love of Chocolate in @Carytownhttp://twitpic.com/7vk72c

Holiday RVA Gift Guide # 20 Hatch Show Print Posters from@LibraryofVA Letterpress Love!http://www.thevirginiashop.org/search.aspx?find=Hatch

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #21 Built by Blacks. Book or pamphlet. Fascinating guide. Buy @ Black History @Va_Architecturehttp://twitpic.com/7welwr

# 22 will be sending you to Virginia Street Gallery in Shockoe Slip for goodies of food, art, and handmade cool things. It’s open 11-8 today through Christmas Eve. 

You would expect that the writer of Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond would bubble with enthusiasm about good ole RVA, and most days that is certainly the way I see this town–rivery, artsy, quirky, historic, architecturally interesting, and quite tasty. Walking all over town on our Real Richmond food tours, I get the chance to tout what’s going on and what’s coming up.

I’ve been high on Richmond for a while, and rarely turn down the chance to go over the top in my search for unique experiences. Hence this shot atop Monumental Church while I was writing the book–ok while I was researching the book. My hands were gripping the treads pretty tight to get much writing done up there.

Angle of repose?

So when I say something’s coming up, I really mean it. One of my favorite things coming up Oct. 20th and 21st: Over the Edge. Last October I had the distinct pleasure of rappelling down 25 stories of the SunTrust building on E. Cary St. in Shockoe Slip for Over the Edge–Special Olympics Virginia’s extreme fundraiser.

I swear I'm there

I’ll do it again Oct. 21st. People do this nutty thing to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics and all the good work they do year-round for the thousands of Special Olympians in Virginia. It’s really not much of a challenge to be pampered and outfitted and safety-checked and instructed to do something for 30 minutes that lots of people would kill to do. Poor word choice.

People with special needs handle much tougher challenges every darned day, and more often than not they don’t get cheered and acquire goodie bags and t-shirts for their trouble. Special Olympics activities–the big ones we hear about–and the smaller, more routine ones we don’t–offer the chance to exult in effort and accomplishment and cameraderie. That always feels fantastic. If you want that feeling to have staying power, please support Special Olympics. It will give you a natural high, too.

Not sure why I stashed this in the drafts pile for several months, but setting up some book signings in the hinterlands for Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, I was reminded of the autumn Sunday I spent out in Short Pump at the B & N there doing a book-signing. We will not go into the reasons someone would do book-signings for a book that doesn’t make her a dime when it sells.  I have ’em. Some of them are unselfish and boosterish;  some of them are selfish, or at least Real Richmond-ish. At any rate, I like talking all things Richmond with people.

The first half of my couple of hour stint was great–a writer friend I don’t see often enough showed up with her daughter to buy a book, James River Park lovers chatted with me about our website and the license plate, and I met a couple of exceedingly pleasant families who were visiting or had just recently moved to the area.  A perfectly great book-signing, by all accounts.

But then the clock chimed and the wind changed and the cafe ran out of caffeine or something and suddenly everyone who walked by sneered or coughed on me or used my table as their trash can–ouch. No one had heard of the James River Park.  Not sure they had heard of Richmond. This crowd couldn’t imagine doing anything on a lovely Sunday but driving around to stores to shop in high heels for more high heels and buy magazines with women wearing even higher heels.  It was depressing. It doesn’t hurt my feelings if people don’t buy my book, but if you don’t like being outside, I don’t know what to say.

Thank goodness, at my lowest point a knight in shiny leather walked through the door and winked at me. Never seen him before in my life, but he turned out to be the highlight of the day.  An older cool dude decked out all in biker black, he was wandering around with his family. I asked him if he spent time in the James River Park and he told me he used to date someone who is now married to someone that all of Richmond’s park lovers know and love.  That was a hoot enough and then I introduced myself and he said he was Ronnie Soffee. My jaw dropped. I had just finished reading his niece’s, Anne Thomas Soffee’s two books, Nerd Girl Rocks Paradise City and Snake Hips: Belly Dancing and How I Found True Love  and this very Uncle Ronnie whose hand I was shaking had shown up at crucial times in the books.  He has a way of doing that. He’s a legend, and I was tickled to be having a quintessential Richmond experience of making twelve intertwining connections with someone who had been a perfect stranger three seconds before…and in very un-Richmond Short Pump.  Thanks for saving the day, Ronnie!

So here is my mea culpa for the surprisingly few yet still annoying mistakes that are my fault in the mostly fabulous guidebook about Richmond I wrote, Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond.  (Whether you agree or disagree with the inclusion of such-and-such restaurant or the omission of some dance club I file somewhere else where I won’t be able to find it when I might need it. )

It became eminently clear to me as soon as it was too late for me to do anything about it that I should have put Richmond Free Press as an Alternative Weekly in the Vital Statistics. It’s unfortunate that being brain dead goes hand-in-hand with writing a guidebook. Occasionally when I wanted to go on auto-pilot I would turn to the Globe Pequot title the editors wanted me to follow–Houston–which should have told us all that we have a problem–and so I put in one alternative paper just like that author did. Dumb. Insensitive. Stupid. Doesn’t make me happy that I didn’t see that faux pas.

NEXT… I refer on occasion to the Forest Hill neighborhood as Westover Hills and I know those Forest Hill folks care. I got it right sometimes, but sometimes my brain just checked out. Most outsiders don’t care a whit about the distinction–if there’s a hill, they’re away–but I do know better and should have caught myself being dopey. 

Lastly?  I, in the guise of getting up to the minute updates on Maggie L. Walker’s year of birth–long reported as 1867, but due to the sleuthing of Elvatrice Belsches now incontrovertibly proven as 1864, I sloppily wrote that Walker was born a slave. No, she was born free, in the time of slavery.  UGH–for me not for her!  Similarly, I wrote that her mother was a slave–well she had been, but wasn’t at the time of Maggie’s birth.  Bums me out to get that wrong. I will shout the real deal from the tops of my tours though.

I do not like making mistakes. I was raised Catholic enough that you see my confession here. My penance isn’t writing this; it’s knowing I should have done better and didn’t.  I can take some comfort knowing that the list of the mistakes the publisher almost made that I caught and fixed is much, much longer (and included titling the book Indianapolis rather than Richmond).  Of course, it’s possible there are other errors that snuck on in.  I’d say let me know–but do I really want to know?

My first task upon taking the job writing  Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, VA was to come up with a Table of Contents and outline the book, pitching whatever chapters I thought relevant to Richmond.  Are you surprised I didn’t write one on monuments? Instead I suggested a river chapter since I don’t think you can appreciate Richmond without experiencing the James River here. (and yes I was on the board of the Friends of James River Park when I wrote the book–still am.)

Some cities’ guidebooks combine Recreation and Parks in one chapter. I knew we had more than enough to split that, so I did. I added an Architecture chapter because RVA is so strong and quirky in that area–Agecroft and Phillip Johnson’s WRVA building and Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol, oh my! And for that war you’ve probably heard about, I paired it, a la Future of Richmond\’s Past, with Emancipation, so visitors don’t think we’re living in some twisted, glorified past. What happened here is more complicated than most people realize and there are lots of compelling and illuminating stories that still need telling.

I didn’t like that in the Houston guide, which oddly enough was my template, art galleries were listed only in the Shopping chapter, so I paired our art galleries with museums in one chapter. Historic houses get their bit in the Attractions chapter.

In the Restaurant chapter and several others, I decided to do things differently than most dining guides around here and not go alphabetically. It made no sense to me to let Ashland, no matter how many times I’ve heard it referred to as the center of the universe, get top billing in Richmond’s book when it’s 15 miles out of town. And Brandermill and Chester!!! Um no.  I started Downtown and circled around within the city north of the river and then went south of the river for the rest of the city. Only then was it the counties’ turn.

Let’s not kid anybody–the best attractions are within Richmond’s city limits. Sometimes in the guise of regional cooperation, people fudge that. I put the city front and center as often as it made sense to. There’s just no question where the action is even if the counties offer some interesting and worthy destinations now and again-the State Fair in Doswell is one such event.

I could psycho-analyze Richmond all day long and share my various theories about why we hide our light under a bushel, but I’d rather blow the lid off and show people how worthy we are–even if we’re not  quite ready.

See my article online at Richmond Magazine, Richmond, You are Here, for more of my thoughts on improving the visitor experience in Richmond. I’d love to hear yours.

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 usatoday.com 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.

Richmond is real, but doesn’t quite know it. Perhaps that’s part of its charm.  I had my shot at framing the real Richmond when I wrote Insiders’ Guide to Richmond, available at BN.com or  Amazon.com and in bookstores around the country and Richmond’s fabulous local gift shops and bookstores (Fountain Bookstore, Chop Suey Books, Book People) soon:

They just had to have a statue somewhere

 I wrote the durned thing so I’m responsible for much of what’s in the 312 page book–though I had little say in the cover and little control over the maps, including the screw up on the Richmond Overview map where Chesterfield County is missing its field. Sigh. [And I just found out today, Sept. 23rd, that a local photographer, Al Wekelo, took both photos on the cover and unfortunately Globe Pequot didn’t give him photo credits. Groan.]
It could have been worse–because it was for a while.  The first I heard about the cover was that it was a cityscape–snooze–and not the river shot I had suggested, but I was just the lowly work-for-hire writer, so what could I do? Months later my editor mentioned in passing that it wasn’t a cityscape after all, but “some statue.”  Apoplexy set in immediately. This is Richmond we are talking about. Statues mean war here.  I could see all my hard work framing Richmond as a dynamic, artsy, outdoorsy, historic town gone with the wind, so to speak….

I calmed down a tad when he sent me the cover shot of the George Washington Equestrian Statue in Capitol Square, but still not happy. Ok, not Monument Ave, so that was a relief, but it read as dull and static, and I knew most people would think it was one of those Confederates on Monument Ave. and think Richmond was the same old racist place it used to be.  I pushed back hard.

After several back and forths wherein I told them they were making a big mistake, and that of course, statues are static and Richmond isn’t, I heard there was a slight chance that they might use another photo. After a nerve-wracking weekend I got the image below from my very kind editor–the Poe Museum garden. Still not the river, and I wasn’t happy that they took out “and Emancipation” in the little sticker on the front…and there was one other slight problem.

Pictures are worth a thousand words and all that, but one wrong word can be bad news. Let’s just say you should click on this and look carefully: IG_Richmond poe

You see one capital, you’ve seen ’em all? So now I can say I’ve not only changed the face of Richmond, I’ve changed its name.  What a coup. Happy to report they straightened out the city confusion after I mentioned it.

But those Connecticut Yankees weren’t done messing with me yet. Unbeknownst to me until the advance copy arrived at my door the other day, they had switched out the photo of TJ’s State Capitol for a cannon that I bet a million dollars isn’t even in Richmond. Hey, I tried.  Who knew there was this much intrigue involved in putting together a travel book? And we haven’t even gotten to the part where all the foodies will have my head for not including their favorite spots….

The doldrums of August are upon us–or at least me. What better time to sip sangria and watch a zombie movie made right here at various locations in Richmond and at Grayhaven Winery in Goochland County? 

If I told you everything I know about this movie, I'd have to kill you.

I almost included the following juicy bit in Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, coming out Sept. 15th, but did not in the end, so here’s an insider’s tip from the outside looking in: 

In 2007, Grayhaven Winery was overrun by zombies during the shooting of the independent film, Attack of the Vegan Zombies! Remarkably, everyone survived though the zombies did develop a thirst for the wine. Don’t be surprised to see the zombies return again as showings of the film crop up (a very punny, if not necessarily funny, pun) around the area, including at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown. For updates, check out www.attackoftheveganzombies.com.

The killer instinct runs in the family....

It’s truly frightening how much of an insider I was, conjuring up nuanced and nutty nuggets about Richmond like that–and leaving some of them out.  Next month you can judge whether I saved the best for the blog or the book.

 So I said my next post would be about the Richmond Slave Trail. I lied. How was I to know there would be breaking news in the meantime?  While writing the Museums and Art Galleries chapter of Insiders’ Guide to Richmond this past winter and spring, I wanted to know the status of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s old money museum that was closed, but in the process of being renovated within the Minoru Yamasaki- (architect of the World Trade Center Twin Towers) designed building.

Spies on Segways looking for clues.

More emails and phone calls than seemed strictly necessary ensued, but as my deadline approached, the Fed was willing to tell me only that they wanted to be included in the guidebook and that there would be an exhibit open to the public sometime. In the interests of secrecy however they weren’t inclined to give me any information.  No name, no hours, no description. Easiest entry to write in the whole book. “Don’t miss something, I’m not sure what, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.” Finally, at the last minute, without so much as a background check, I was sworn to secrecy since the employees themselves had not been told what the name of the attraction would be.  Somehow I managed to smuggle out a press release. 

For months now I’ve struggled to keep this to myself, but now that the story broke in Saturday’s T-D, I can finally let out my breath:   The Fed Experience is the name of the new museum at the Fed. You wouldn’t believe how keeping that secret ate up my insides. Starting tomorrow, The Fed Experience will be open during the week. It’s geared toward middle-school aged children, but let’s face it, most American adults don’t have a handle on money and finance, including many who work in the financial industry, so I bet most people could learn a thing or two there.  Admission is free, pre-registration  is suggested, and security screening is required. You heard it here first–or second.

I’m back!

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