Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy
February 19, 2004. Dupont Circle.
Sitting at Java House, across from the Trio, down the street from the Cairo, around the corner from IUCN’s old office and RFF’s new office, not far from what used to be the youth hostel where I lived in 1975 when I first left college and moved to Washington. This neighborhood has been in and out of my life for thirty years now, even more than New York. I was first here in the spring of 1974, when the Junior Academy of Sciences came on its first Washington trip and we stayed at the hostel. When we cooked spaghetti for the group in the hostel kitchen that I was to know so well barely a year later. When we tried to find matzoh at the crummy Safety at 15th and P, because it was Passover. Susanna was on that trip – we really have been together for generations. Her son is almost ten years older now than we were on that trip.
Dupont Circle has changed since then. Trendier, richer, much more expensive. The Trio’s is still here, though, selling pizzas and diner breakfasts, the same red neon sign announcing steaks and chops. Lamb chops? Pork chops? I wonder what that even means. I used to have breakfast there with my friend Peter, back when we lived on 19th Street behind the Hilton where Ronald Reagan was shot – though not at the same time. We would have Mexican at 17th and R, at a restaurant that folded a few years ago. We would go to Food For Thought, the funky restaurant and coffee house on Connecticut Avenue where I first went in 1975, with a friend from the hostel. Food For Thought was the right place for me then, herb teas and yogurt with apples and bananas and cashews, melted cheese sandwiches with sprouts and cucumbers on homemade bread. Food For Thought closed five years ago, replaced by a pseudo French bistro, one more sign that the neighborhood is less funky activist and more chic.
So much of my life has been lived within half a mile of this coffee house – whose opening I watched in 1989, chatting with the Iranian economist who followed his dream to quit econ to open a restaurant. When I first left Brown and moved to Washington to intern at the American Association for Higher Education, I lived in the hostel, sharing a room with a penniless law student who lived on bananas and considered selling her body so she could eat a bit better. As I recall she gave it away very freely, so perhaps she might as well have gotten more than pleasure from it. Eventually a room came open, so tiny that my would only fit the long way, but I was happy to have my own space. Kind of like Matilda, living in a space that small – perhaps I’ve come full circle?