"Feng Shui Diva"Lands "Iyanla" Gig; Hubcap Rumor Vexes State Cops; Saudi Police Train the Richmond Way; Donation Brings smiles to Museum; Demolition Turns Up Valuable Bricks 

Street Talk

"Feng Shui Diva"Lands "Iyanla" Gig

Richmonder Robyn Bentley, who recently trademarked her job title, the "Feng Shui Diva," has left her mark on the latest Oprah-spawned television show, "Iyanla."

A mutual friend put Iyanla in contact with Bentley, who was tapped as feng shui consultant for the show, which premieres this week and is produced by Barbara Walters. The host, Iyanla Vanzant, is a self-help guru and frequent Oprah pundit.

In May, Bentley spent a marathon 12-hour day in New York helping staffers lay out their offices in accordance with feng shui principles. The ancient Chinese and Tibetan system aligns each person's "positive and negative directions," as Bentley puts it, to help people "live in harmony with the energy around [them]."

To start, Bentley met one-on-one with each of the show's 40 employees to determine their individual "directions." "The most important factor is your sleeping direction," Bentley explains, which is determined by lunar year of birth.

Using those directions, Bentley picked out colors, furnishings and artwork for the office. She figured out where water fountains should go and even where the office should hang Iyanla's portrait. She also laid a tic-tac-toe grid over the floor plan, substituting water and fire elements for X's and O's.

Aside from overseeing the layout of the workers' cubicles, she decided how to balance the surrounding offices and the private lounge of the show's star, in the adjoining CBS building where the show is taped.

"Every workplace needs good feng shui, whether it's a TV show or a bank," Bentley says. But her advice doesn't come cheap. Bentley charges $100 an hour for a minimum of three hours — $800 for the "Iyanla" job.

Bentley's advice is for sale locally, too. She is finishing a book scheduled for release in December. She also holds monthly, half-hour seminars at the Aquarian Bookstore at Willow Lawn. — Matthew King

Hubcap Rumor Vexes State Cops

Lately the Virginia Department of State Police has sure looked smart.

In the middle of a budget crunch and quasi-recession, the revered troopers have found ways to bolster their image and simultaneously save money.

It's as if sleek and cheap has been their mantra.

Maybe that explains why it is one of the only departments — heck, places — in town hiring.

Recently the Stetson-style trooper hats were traded for the "campaign-style" Smokey-the-Bear chapeau. Savings to the department are expected to be $130,000 over the next three years.

And just last week, the newest addition to the trooper fleet — "slick tops" — made the news, cruising on the scene like the venerable Kit from "Knight Rider."

It's unclear how the department plans to save on the cruisers — equipped with hidden flashing lights in side mirrors and glove boxes. But sometimes you just can't put a price tag on fashion, ahem, safety.

Then last week, word on the street was that state police were getting new hubcaps, to boot. A source, who asks to remain unnamed, claims the discs were the request of Superintendent Col. W. Gerald Massengill and might cost the department as much as $75,000.

Certainly an argument could be made for new hubcaps. You never know. They just may be the real image-booster that makes troopers forget they're not getting a pay raise or the overtime hours they got before.

But don't get your hopes up about spying new silvery caps among Virginia's highway patrol.

It turns out some troopers driving the Crown Vic cruiser were "experiencing problems with the Ford hubcaps falling off," says Karen Scales with the state police public affairs office.

Although the State Police are now buying Chevy Impalas instead of Crown Vics, a surprisingly gracious Ford reimbursed the police so they could buy hubcaps that would fit the new cars.

Scales says she's not sure about where or if there's a surplus of sparkling hubcaps stowed away. What she is certain of is that "we received a check for hubcaps for $10,000." — Brandon Walters

Saudi Police Train the Richmond Way

Officers with the Richmond Police Department have been brushing up on their hosting skills. It's a good thing: Their Saudi Arabian counterparts have arrived.

A group of 20 Saudi Arabian police officers have been immersed in English classes at Virginia Commonwealth University since January. But few people have known about it.

In just over a month the department launches the first of what could be an ongoing exchange program with Saudi Arabia. It's called the Saudi Arabian Police Officer Training Project, a special training academy, and it gets underway in mid-October.

Already, says Sgt. John Keohane, director of the Richmond Police Training Academy, the Saudis are champing at the bit to see some action — on the road and at the range.

Their training will consist of two months of classroom time and four months spent in the field. To offset training expenses the Saudi government is paying the Richmond Police Department a whopping $117,500 to host the six-month academy. Much of the money also will go to upgrades to the department's own training academy.

"It's almost like a police college," Keohane says.

If so, he's the resident advisor. For months he's helped Saudi officers set up bank accounts and given them directions to restaurants — whatever it takes to acclimate to the city.

Already, Keohane claims he's picked up on bits and pieces of Arabic language and culture himself — though he admits he's hard pressed to pronounce them.

Richmond was one of dozens of U.S. police departments targeted by the Saudi Arabian government as a proposed site to host a special training academy.

While Saudi Arabia is famous for its wealth, its police maneuvers are not spectacularly sophisticated. "They still stand up on a box to direct traffic," says Keohane with a laugh.

Last summer a delegation from Saudi Arabia visited Police Chief Jerry Oliver to discuss training and curriculum for Saudi officers. Richmond Police submitted a proposal and it was accepted.

Richmond Police Officer Stephen Dunfee is especially excited about the project. It's given him a chance to brush up on the Arabic he learned 10 years ago in the Army while stationed at Fort Bragg. He never thought he'd need it as a police officer, he says.

Keohane says he's already learned that cops everywhere have a lot in common.

"There are common bonds among police officers even though they're from different countries," he says. "They talk about schedules and lack of equipment too." — B.W.

Donation Brings smiles to Museum

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts librarian Suzanne Freeman can't stop smiling. Her reason: A collection of 445 books, magazines and other rare printed materials has just been donated to the library of the Virginia Museum by the museum's retired 20th-century art curator Frederick R. Brandt.

"It is an extremely substantial corpus of primary source material that is rarely found in one place," Freeman exults. "Some libraries hold the microfilm of the books but we hold the actual book. It's pretty awesome."

For example, the Virginia Museum now owns original copies of three books — "The Lark" and two Red Letter Shakespeare works — that the Library of Congress owns only on microfilm.

The primary source materials donated were books, magazines, journals, pamphlets, flyers and postcards dating from the late 1890s to the mid-1920s, falling into the Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

Brandt and his wife, Carol, began collecting the works in the mid-'70s. The first thing they bought was a couple of pots from a local dealer at a yard sale in town. The collection grew with items found at auctions, private dealers and even junk stores. "We just liked it," says Brandt.

They liked the clean lines of the period, he explains. Plus, the items were affordable but not accessible — which meant that few people had heard of it.

Times have changed, though. The styles have become much more popular with celebrities and the like, which has caused prices to jump.

Brandt donated his collection of paper materials, valued at over $10,000, in memory of his wife, who died suddenly in November.

"The whole thing is about one, honoring my wife and two, maybe people will notice and kick in a little something to the museum," says Brandt.

The majority of the pieces will go to the library's rare-book collection. But some of the pieces, because of their rarity, will be exhibited within the museum, Freeman says.

Brandt says the rarest item in the collection, and the most difficult to give up, was "The Prayer Book of Edward VII." The book is illustrated with original woodcuts by English designer C.R. Ashbee.

"I had given [it] to Carol as a Christmas present 20 years ago," Brandt says. "It's the most gorgeous book you've ever seen. And I found it in a junk store." — Carrie Nieman and Jason Roop

Demolition Turns Up Valuable Bricks

The future home of the new Kroger store and CVS Pharmacy at Lombardy and Leigh streets has turned into a race to save thousands of antique handmade bricks.

To make way for the store, developers are demolishing a 97-year-old tobacco warehouse that most recently housed the Rehrig shopping-cart factory. But a salvage company wants to save the unique bricks from the scrap yard.

"We're trying to stay ahead of the demolition crew and salvage," says Taylor Moore, the owner of E.T. Moore Manufacturing Co. Moore, whose company resells used construction materials, wants the bricks to supply new building projects.

Moore has six to seven weeks to gather them from the site. Any bricks he can't get his hands on will go straight to the dump.

What makes the bricks so special is their age and design. Moore believes they date to the late 19th century, though it is difficult to determine their exact age. Some of the bricks could be older than that; Moore thinks they may have been recycled from other Richmond buildings.

Why would anyone want them? Well, old bricks are more durable, Moore says. They're 50 percent thicker than today's bricks, which are made by machines. They were also made carefully by hand, he says. The bricks were fired in wood kilns, giving them a variety of colors and densities. They appear smooth and faded. "The old look attracts people," Moore says.

He's hoping he can find those people. The 200,000-square-foot building contains about 750,000 bricks. Moore hopes to sell them for about 50 to 60 cents each, which would come to around $375, 000. Modern bricks, by comparison, sell for 10 to 60 cents per brick.

Moore would like to find a local buyer — if the price is right, he says. "I would like to sell these to Richmond, but [sometimes] the economics get in the way," he says.

Right now, it appears the bricks may be used to help restore an 1840 Georgetown house. But an offer has not been made yet, so the bricks may stay in Richmond. — Dan Wagener

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