From Comedy to Tragedy: what I saw at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville

20708406_1686411514766643_3696740697917868792_nThe first thing I saw when I approached the Unite the Right rally on Saturday, August 12 here in Charlottesville was a guy across from Market Street Market selling bottled water for $2 out of his car, saying, “I figured I had to make the most of it.” The next thing I saw were a group of Unite the Right protesters gathered on the corner of Market Street and 3rd Street NE, dressed like middle-schoolers going to a war games-themed birthday party, with make-shift helmets, shields, and batons. All this was at first quite comical. The group paused on the corner for a moment, issued an obscure kind of war cry, and marched fast toward the park with various photographers running backwards quickly trying to capture the action.

At the park, the Unite the Right protesters had already gathered in a double fenced off section of the park, and you could stand and view them like exotic animals in a zoo. They all faced outward, pressing against the steel fencing, and harassed and verbally abused onlookers, many of whom returned the favor. There was a lot of vulgar harassment of women from the group, and I heard one guy say to a woman, “You’re a little chubby around the edges, but I’d f##k you, Bitch.” There were women with them, too, and I noticed how they had no expressions on their faces as the men they were with said this stuff. Still, it all seemed comical. Were these guys serious? Meanwhile, I spotted what appeared to be self-styled, bearded militiamen walking around in fatigues and assault rifles with odd assortments of insignia on their “uniforms.” They all looked very serious, and no one I spoke to could tell me exactly why they were there, but at that point their inscrutable countenance seemed comical, too. Were they expecting some kind of armed ambush from some opposing guerrilla army? Meanwhile, various public officials and notable citizens milled about, seeming a little amused by this particular circus that came to town. They could stand safely at the edge of the fencing around the park and observe various white supremacists and neo-nazis spewing slogans and insulting people. I saw friends and colleagues and we had time to chat. A couple of local guys had thought to put loud speakers on the top of a nearby building, and they had the words of James Baldwin playing in a continuous loop. Nearby a guy had set up an easel and he was painting comic book-style portraits of Robert E. Lee and Donald Trump.

20708191_1686411471433314_8139878792168219992_nOn the steps to the Market Street entrance to the park a group of clergy, including Harvard scholar Dr. Cornell West, blocked the entrance and quietly demanded that the Unite the Right protesters gathered below them “stand down” and not enter the park. this standoff went of for a few moments, until the Unite the Right protesters finally walked up the steps and pushed them violently aside.

That’s when things seemed to shift, that’s when it started not to be so comical. Fights in the street broke out shortly after that between Unite the Right protesters and counter-protesters. And over the next 45 minutes or so that intensified. At one point I was standing beside one of Charlottesville’s city councilors as he tried to film the scene, and had to nudge him aside as a smoke bomb canister came hurling toward us. Rocks, tear gas, bottles filled with bleach, and balloons filled with urine would follow. I saw bloodied heads and faces. I saw scared people running past me, other who looked like they would gladly smash you in the face if you looked them. A saw a TV crew flee the tent they had set up under across the park. I watched as an African-American TV camera man tried to put his camera on a tripod, but was having trouble because his hands were shaking so much. I heard someone say, “The cops have vanished.” And sure enough, I looked around and the state police who had been standing along the fencing earlier were gone.

20728279_1686410811433380_2776422500373341158_nI then looked up and a screaming, angry mob of white supremacists and neo-nazis had totally taken over the park, ringing its edges with their home-made riot gear. Not only was this not comical anymore, it was frightening. Why weren’t police stepping in now? At that point, you knew something bad was about to happen, that people were going to get hurt, that a surge of violent energy had been let loose on our town. Within the hour, three people would be dead, and dozens injured.

“I like to help people create their ideal environment for growth…”

“I love diversity. I’m an acupuncturist, and I’m an interfaith minister. Acupuncture is like gardening, and interfaith ministry is also similar [to gardening]. I like to help people create their ideal environment for growth. I’m not the healer, I’m just the gardener.”


Text and photo by Haley Burton. You can visit her Individuals of Charlottesville Facebook page to see people in other locations around Charlottesville.

“I sing and give my voice to the cause I am protesting…”

“From time-to-time this writer marches up and down the mall carrying a picket sign protesting against such things as the Iraq War and the killing of seventeen-year old unarmed Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, or protesting for Health Care for all, what some people call “Obamacare.” (Let me add, Obama cares a lot.) Usually while protesting I sing and give my voice to the cause I am protesting. At other times I play the harmonica and/or sing to entertain or lift the spirits of people who often give me thumbs up.” More here.



Bag with matching bat: DTM clothing store gets unexpected visitor

photoZoe Stevenson, an employee at clothing store Verdigris on the DTM, had an unexpected visitor yesterday– a giant bat, which she says was sleeping behind one of the bags that a standing mannequin was holding.

“When I went to move the bag it was thrown to floor,” says Stevenson. “ It was just lying there looking at me and breathing fast.”

Stevenson was sure she’d hurt the bat, and that it was dying, but then it sprang to life.

“I took the photo, and then right after it spread its huge wings and came at me,” she says. “ I ran as fast as possible out the door and opened the doors and just waited for him to find his way out.”

Stevenson said the large bat circled around the store for about ten minutes.

“I was terrified,” says Stevenson. “ They scare me to start with, but I have never been that scared around a bat before. I was sure he was chasing me and going to get tangled in my hair.”

So what happened to the bat?

“It flew out of the store.”

“Myotis lucifugus. ‘The little brown bat,’ “ local nature writer Jackson Landers informs The DTM. ”Totally harmless. It probably ended up in the store by accident and then freaked out.”

A remembrance: Good-bye to long-time C & O owner Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson at the C&O Restaurant. Photo by Jen Fariello.

Dave Simpson at the C&O Restaurant. Photo by Jen Fariello.

Long-time C&O Restaurant owner, and good friend, Dave Simpson passed away suddenly this week. He will be missed. Here’s an interview I did with Dave a few years back. He was a wise and thoughtful man:

The C&O: a friendly port in a stormy world
November 30, 2010

For 30 years now, Dave Simpson has been holding down the fort at the C&O restaurant, which put Charlottesville on the fine dining map when original owners Sandy McAdams and Philip Stafford opened the place in 1976.

Back then you could count the number of fine-dining restaurants in town on two hands. Today, you need a calculator.

Remarkably, the cozy place in the funky building on Water Street is still setting the standard in Charlottesville cuisine. As for Simpson, he’s manged to maintain the restaurant’s good reputation for three decades now with a combination of hard work and some fine people skills. One of the few missteps he’s made was straying away from the C&O and partnering with wayward accountant Jim Baldi (who is still wanted on felony embezzlement charges) on the Bel Rio fiasco, a restaurant whose noise and financial problems made Simpson feel put in a “bad guy” role. He parted ways with Baldi and issued a public apology to the people in Belmont “who found this enterprise a nuisance while I was involved.”

Back where he belongs now, Simpson, who grew up in Charlottesville in the 1950s, the son of a City cop, recently took time out to reflect on the last 30 years.

“Growing up as a cop’s son then was a little like growing up on the Andy Griffith Show,” says Simpson. “My mom worked at Sperry, and my brother Mike and I graduated from Lane High school.”


Ephemeral mural: Indian mural to remain, but obscured by new hotel

Photo by Hawes Spencer

Photo by Hawes Spencer

The iconic mural of two Indian chiefs that graces the side wall of the Afghan Grand Market on West Main Street will remain as a new Marriott Residence Inn goes up beside it, but it will be largely obscured from view, say City officials.

The mural was commissioned by former Random Row Books in 2011 and painted by a group of Tandem Friends School students, a response to the nearby Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue. More importantly, the late developer Gabe Silverman, who died last November and owned the Afghan Grand Market building under his Main Street Associates, LLC, allowed the mural to be painted on his property.

“There will be a few feet between the hotel wall and the Afghani Market wall. You will still be able to see it, but barely,” says Mary Joy Scala, the City’s Preservation and Design Planner.

Scala believes the Indian mural is the best mural in town, and that it also serves as a reminder of Silverman’s imprint on the community.

“I am sad that it  will no longer be clearly visible,” says Scala, ” but the best things are often ephemeral.”

The Mind of Russell Richards: The local artist on his new short film “Fiji Mermaid”

photo 4 (1)In a spare bedroom of his Belmont house, the McGuffey artist-in-residence Russell Richards stands next to one of the stars of his latest short film, a grotesque stop motion model he built by hand. A replica of a 19th century phenomena called a Fiji Mermaid, the foot-and-a-half figure is grey-skinned, with shriveled breasts that hang over a fish’s lower body, laying horizontally with crazy gray hair, bug eyes and a leer on its face as it gnaws on the outstretched intestines of an incredibly life-like rat. The rodent itself took four days to make as Richards raced to complete it by the first of March so he could submit the 13 minute movie for a festival deadline.

“Like everything on this film it kept taking so long,” Richards says a little exhaustedly. Almost four years ago, he began work on the short movie after encountering a “real” Fiji Mermaid at a maritime museum on Rehoboth Beach, NJ. In the mid-1800s, carnivals and even P.T. Barnum touted a new attraction: a beautiful creature, half woman, half fish, that had been captured. Buy a ticket and she was available to gawk at somewhere inside.

The Fiji Mermaid was of course an elaborate hoax and a cruel buzzkill. Whoever expected a gorgeous sea nymph instead found a disgusting amalgamation: the upper torso of a dried-up dead monkey sewn on to the bottom of a dead fish. Papier Mâché was usually employed to heighten its revulsion.

A century and a half later, Richards was entranced. “It was just the creepiest damn thing,” he says, his eyes alive with the recollection. “Really convincingly done. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. That’s a movie monster there.”

If you’ve seen Richards’ first short film Bride of the Fly, or viewed his art at McGuffey or online, then you’re aware of his hyper-stylized, occasionally garish visual style. Highly informed by the fields of science fiction and fantasy, Richards’ imagination brings forth a cavalcade of ghouls and demented demons, yet they’re depicted with such affection that they’re not exactly scary, more to be tolerated and even loved than fought or detested.

Richards’ art is evenly split between these sorts of creatures and his renderings of nude female models, so Fiji Mermaid was almost an ideal project for him. “I was intrigued by the idea that they entice you in with visions of a sexy woman mermaid, but instead you get this hideous little creature,” he says. In a pivotal scene, the film’s protagonist makes out with a beautiful topless mermaid whose face morphs into that of the horrific Fiji Mermaid. One or the other eventually lures the forlorn man to his death.

“What if there really were horrid mermaid creatures like that,” he asks, “and the vision of a sexy mermaid was like the Siren call of Greek myth that lured sailors to their death? That’s the theme of this in my view.” In the film, the attraction of an exotic beauty is undeniable but the horrific seems equally magnetic. Perhaps the artist is telling us that both are to be loved and feared.

realaliveOut in Russell’s fenced-in backyard, a long gray square column lays abandoned in the sunburnt grass. Constructed near the end of filming, Richards had returned to Charlottesville from Coney Island where he filmed most of the movie during two frigid winter days. Shooting almost exclusively on 16mm film, he ran out during a sequence filmed in front of a concrete column. To make up the difference he had one built out of plywood and painted gray and finished the scene in his driveway in Belmont. “Damned if it didn’t match,” he says, beaming (it helped that his girlfriend Dea Detritus played the gypsy in that scene. Two friends—Shawn Decker and a model named Shakti—rounded out the cast).

The column is also one of the few props in the film not made by Richards. He traded a colleague a painting in exchange for it, as he struggled to fund the film. Initially financed by Kickstarter, he finished with his own money and unique barters for services like the construction of the fraying column.

Back inside the house, he stops beside a six foot high booth that sits in a corner of a back room. “Real Alive” it announces on the side and it is the film’s main prop, where the protagonist views the Fiji Mermaid in action. Faux barnacles on the base make it look like it’s been dragged out of the sea. The house is strewn with objects like these. On one wall hangs a framed portrait that was used for the tarot cards Russell made for the gypsy sequence. Down the steps and in the basement, an ornate light box created to resemble the kind of sign that used to hang outside buildings on the boardwalk at Coney Island leans on the cement floor. An early mold for the Fiji Mermaid rests on a nearby workbench.

“I could have made a feature with the amount of work I put into this film,” Russell surmises. Like Bride of the Fly, Fiji Mermaid is an idiosyncratic film where every frame was preconceived and painfully executed. “I knew this was going to be low budget but that I could design every damn frame of the film, and make it artful, cool to watch, and rich visually.”

“I also wanted it to be a knowledgeable film,” he says. “I have a tendency to really research things, so I looked into everything about mermaids and Coney Island and the old sideshows, so that I could sneak in all sorts of little references.”

It’s an approach to filmmaking that might be enriching for both viewer and the director, but is antediluvian in today’s film world, instead harkening back to directors of the 1960s and 70s, or perhaps a modern-day maverick like Darren Aronofsky or quirky auteur like Wes Anderson. So far, Richards’ approach has worked with his short films where the bizarre and abstract can flourish and are even welcomed.

Whether it will translate to something more substantial will be tested with one of his next projects, a prospective feature length movie. “All my films are going to be fantastical, with wild imagery, special effects, and within the confines of science fiction and horror,” he admits, sitting on the green couch in his living room. A collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories rests on a corner table next to him while a cat named Valis (after his favorite Philip K. Dick book) purrs on his lap. “They’ll be surreal and lurid.” In other words, what we’d expect from the mind of Russell Richards.