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Just Ducky

Would that I had my ducks in a row on this first day of 2013. Came upon something I wrote in early Jan. 2002 bemoaning the lack of organization in these parts and our manic undertakings to improve this that and the other. Ducks have two advantages that we don’t–no email or paper to drown in. I think it might take some walking on water to stay afloat!

One of the many benefits of leading food tours in Richmond is that I get to eat a little at a lot of places. Sometimes I eat a lot at just one place. Today on the Shockoe Slip: Capital of Cuisine tour, we could have ended the tour at our first stop, La Grotta. Tony Capece, the chef and co-owner with his adorable wife, Andrea (who says she’s allergic to the kitchen), brought out two pasta dishes–Duck Ravioli in a Tomato Sauce and Beet Fettucine w/ Asparagus, Shitake Mushrooms and the Best Damned Sauce I’ve ever Tasted.

The pasta is made in-house at La Grotta.

There was Duck Ravioli and then as if we needed anything more, Tony brought out enough Strawberry Grand Marnier Cake and Chocolate Cream Caramel to make me consider ending the tour right then and there from overwhelming fullness.

Chocolate Cream Caramel at La Grotta is divine.

I am finicky about chocolate desserts. Or should I say, I will eat almost anything chocolate and then complain that many of the things I’ve devoured are tasteless and  disappointing. Let me be clear–La Grotta’s Chocolate Cream Caramel was eye-poppingly delicious. The only thing disappointing was to be a good tour guide rather than a good glutton, I had to leave 3 of the squares on the platter as I shooed my tourgoers out the door and on to our next stop. Business before gluttony, like I always say.

In today’s Washington Post Travel section, here’s an article I wrote bout fun times in River City. Fairly predictably, the online version is entitled A River Runs Through It–Outdoor Adventure Capital but when I picked up a paper copy today, quite oddly enough it is titled A Freeway Runs Through It: Natural Richmond. Really? My suspicion is some headline writer had a bad experience on I-95 on his way through town and never got over it. I can only assume he averted his eyes upon nearing a river view. I am not amused. It’s the sort of cheap shot that could start a war or something….

Some weeks lend themselves to getting out and about and appreciating the spring thing. This is not one of them, so I will cheat and throw in photos from a week or two ago when the Cherry Blossoms were in full swing down on Brown’s Island.

Pink Island

The weekday I was wandering around on Brown’s Island and Belle Isle I ran into at least 3 people I knew out taking in the spring splendor in the middle of the day. Playing hookey, perhaps. We couldn’t have picked a better place to do it though in my defense, I was working on a new and exciting route for Real Richmond, my food tours (& more) biz.  I even ran into a gal who had been on the previous week’s food tour of Shockoe Slip. She was there with her Goochland Elementary School’s 4th graders, taking in the Civil War museums at Tredegar and she told me that because our tour had taken her to TJ’s Capitol, she’d asked the bus driver on her school field trip to take the class there for a class picture. Hope they return for the full-fledged visit soon.

Old stuff is cool.

One of the flaws of the very worthwhile Tredegar area is that there is no place to buy snacks or lunch there. There’s space for a small cafe and perhaps one day it will appear, but until then, you will have to be resourceful like I am and either pack your own chocolate chip cookies or do what I won’t tell you you can do because I’m about to launch a new Real Richmond product that will be really fun but I can’t tell you what it involves quite yet. That is mean. Oh well. I’m really very nice and generous on our actual tours–but they’re only 2.5 hours, so that explains that. There are tickets available for this Saturday’s 2-4:30 p.m. tour of The Wards–April 2nd. If you email me at mentioning this blog post, you’ll get a two-for one deal, while supplies last.

Multi-media day here in Richmond, VA.

Hear from me about the James River Park System license plate campaign. Just 20 more needed by the end of next week! Here’s the Richmond Times-Dispatch article. interviewed me regarding things to do around town. Since the article was about RVA happenings I wrote about in Insiders’ Guide to Richmond (buy it at Fountain Bookstore or Chop Suey Books, among other places), I behaved and didn’t mention my new food tour biz, Real Richmond.  Let’s just say you have to read between the lines to smell what’s cooking. But these tips are the sorts of things we mention on our tours. Insiders\’ Tips from ME

And here is  Richmond.Com\’s take on Real Richmond\’s Shockoe Slip food tour.  It would appear that I get around. Honestly, I haven’t left this chair in front of the computer for hours. Still need to brush my teeth. I’ll get on that right away.

That ought to sate us for a while. But if you want to DIG IN to RVA some more, go to Real Richmond to see how to taste AND see Richmond.

Ducks do it:

What's the big deal?

Yesterday at Pony Pasture, the ducks couldn’t be bothered by the to-do surrounding the 15 or so die-hards who arrived at the boat ramp at noon for the 4th annual Polar Plunge. Air temps were fairly kind, but still the chill was on the skin and faces of the cheery crazies even before they took the plunge.

Showing some guts, so to speak!

And at the stroke of noon, they were in, in honor of Wayne Goodman, RA-More stalwart and trail-builder extraordinaire, who is recovering from a spinal cord injury he suffered in Forest Hill Park. 

in the drink

Don’t expect to see a photo of moi in the James…maybe next year. It’s too bad I didn’t jump in wearing only James River Park license plate applications. That would have made great TV.

Where's Grandma Moses when I need her?


‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the park, all the creatures were stirring; they like it in the dark. The applications were set in the mailbox with care in hopes that a James River Park license plate soon would be there.

The salamanders were nestled all snug in the mud while visions of license plates danced in the crud. And FOJRP board members in our kerchiefs and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out in the park there arose such a clatter, we sprang to the river to see what was the matter. When what to our wondering eyes did appear, but a miniature truck and actual deer, with a little old driver so lively and bright, we knew in a moment it must be Ralph White.

He was dressed all in khaki from his head to his toe except for the kneesocks if you really must know. A bundle of presents he had in his truck but he said the park needed a couple of bucks. His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples how merry. His cheeks were all bearded–park employees are hairy.

He spoke a few words, but went straight to his work, and filled us with awe; then dealt with a jerk. As anyone who loves the James River Park knows, we’d all be so lost without Ralph’s poetry and prose.

He sprang to his truck, to his team used his bullhorn and away they all drove like the scrape of a sharp thorn. But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of state, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a JRPS license plate!

Compared to what some people have done for the James River Park System, it might seem miniscule and inconsequential to do your own part for the future of the park by completing your JRPS license plate application:  JamesRiverPark_LicensePlate_FAQ11, but I’m here to tell you that writing a check for $25 (which money would be returned to you in January if we don’t hit our 350 apps goal) for a James River Park System license plate is the most important thing you can do for the park this year.  And yes, I am the president of the Friends of James River Park, so ask me any questions you’d like.

So much easier to do than create a park from nothing

If we get the 190 or so applications that we still need by this year’s General Assembly session in January, you will be the proud owner of this fab license plate by early summer.  Once we hit 1000 license plates on the road, $15 of every application and renewal will come to Friends of James River Park to improve the park and everyone’s experience of it.

This fall has been particularly lovely and long-lasting and I’ve had plentiful opportunities to hit the trails in the James River Park System and see all the glinting and glowing going on there. I really wonder about people who have lived here for years and don’t experience the park. It’s free and it’s strung out along the river for miles, so it’s accessible to people all over the region. There are even wheelchair accessible spots at Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, Belle Isle, and Ancarrow’s Landing.

The country mouse would like this city-living

Rock-hopping in the Main Area as I did with my son yesterday, parking at the 42nd St. entrance and walking down the steps and across the bridge over the railroad tracks, we walked over to the granite and bronze marker that the Friends of James River Park put up last year. It honors Jack Keith and Joe Schaefer, two area citizens who in the 1960’s noted that there was no public access to the river and decided to do something about it.

They researched who owned the parcels along the river in Forest Hill and Westover Hills and quietly accumulated the islands and shoreline. They then turned around and gave the land to the city for a park. In 1972 it became the James River Park System. It is not an overstatement to say that the work, foresight, and generosity of these two men have brought joy to millions of people.  Two guys–what a legacy.

Where it all started--thanks, guys!

 To help FOJRP continue what Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Keith started, please fill out your JRPS license plate application and send it in to us today! FOJRP is an all-volunteer, shoe-string kind of charitable organization –a 501c3– and making this license plate campaign successful would be a huge step for us in securing a constant stream of income that we can use to protect and improve the park. Thanks for your help in spreading the word. If two guys can do what they did, certainly 200 people can accomplish something worthwhile as well.

Sometimes nature knows best:

Here's looking at you, hole in the tree

Sometimes nature makes a mess of things.

river wood

Sometimes nature needs a nudge from nurture to be what looks like has always been and belonged.

not quite afloat

To my eye, this sculpture by R. L. Croft looks like something John Smith left behind or a pirate ship or an oversized eagles’ nest. But whether you’re inclined to see John Smith’s shallop or a pile of wood, it’s worth taking a walk in the woods at Pony Pasture in the  James River Park System to check it out. Take the main riverside trail east from the parking lot to Half Moon Beach. There take the narrow trail even closer to the river east and you’ll see the sculpture soon. That is if idiots don’t wreck it. It’s already changed since I saw it earlier this week. One bit of wood with iron in it is no longer standing athwart the stern (misusing boat terms for fun–avoiding pirate-speak to preserve my dignity) and I chastized two males today for taking a wooden pallet from elsewhere in the park to do some dumb thing to the boat. I guess some people’s nature is to wreck things. I’d rather leave that to nature.

in dry dock for now

This will be worth checking on when the river rises, as the boat might seem to float. When it floods, part of it will most assuredly become part of another log jam downriver.

At Bryan Park last Friday I saw the premiere of Gabriel’s Story, a monologue written by Derome Scott-Smith for the 100th anniversary of Bryan Park.   The premise is that Gabriel is in his cell the night before he is to be executed at the Hanging Grounds in Shockoe Bottom, near Broad Street.  Gabriel’s life is a rich source of dramatic material–born into slavery in1776, just a year after Patrick Henry bellowed his most  famous words in St. John’s Church on Church Hill: “…Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”  It’s as if Henry wrote those words completely aware of chains but completely unaware of those chained all around him, dismissive of the plight of someone like Gabriel. That’s a pretty good juxtaposition–Gabriel and Patrick Henry, right there (and right here in Richmond), and the more you learn about Gabriel, the more fascinating it gets.

I wish I could report the piece worked as historical reenactment, but it did not. The setting, at dusk at Bryan Park, near squealing soccer players, bike-riding children, and oblivious others did not help set the scene.  I felt badly for the actor, who seemed to have trouble with his lines–also the wind bedeviled him as he tried to light candles frequently for symbolism.

Gabriel had more room to roam than I’d expect to see in a cell and it strained credulity to think a powerful figure such as Gabriel would be allowed the hefty club he occasionally picked up to mime field work or blacksmithing.

These are trifles though. Unfortunately, the monologue was too much of a monotone that in telling a valuable, underappreciated story had only a few memorable lines in 30 minutes. As dramatic as the elements of Gabriel’s life and death are, as many ties there are that bind his life to the contradiction at the heart of our nation’s beginnings, wordiness worked against the piece. Gabriel grew up enslaved in Henrico County, became a blacksmith, and hearing the stirrings of revolution in France and Haiti, planned a slave rebellion in1800 that included thousands, only to be foiled by a freak storm and snitches.

Think about how hard it is to get a thousand people to do something really hard. Even with the storm–I think of it as a Gaston-style storm from the descriptions of flooding–1000 people gathered in Henrico County, ready to storm the city, set fire to Rockett’s as a diversion, take over the armory, kidnap Governor Monroe, and raise a flag that was to say Death or Liberty. Sound familiar, no? And they were going to kill any whites along the way who weren’t abolitionists, French, Quaker, or Methodist to preserve the element of surprise.  Now that’s a plan.

More people know about Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 than Gabriel’s, perhaps because Turner’s killed white people and of course, William Styron wrote the book, but Gabriel’s story can more than hold a candle to Nat Turner’s. I appreciate the attempt at dramatizing the story for a wider audience. Perhaps future performances will show improvement.

The monologue will be performed again Friday evenings in Bryan Park, Oct. 1st, 8th, and 15th at 6:30 p.m., so see for yourself what you think of the script and production. It’s an important story that more people in Richmond  and beyond should know.

I’m back!