Last Sunday, when I was at Eastern Market to get apples and pears, I saw a small, painted wood statue of Kuan Yin. I have been attracted to this one of the 330 million gods and goddesses for some time. Her primary attribute is compassion. She is said to be a female Chinese metamorphosis of the Buddhist bodhisattva Avalotikeshvara, who, according to some, is an emanation of the Hindu deity Shiva.
She had a price tag of $70 around her neck. It was too much, especially since her hand and foot looked like they had just broken off in transit.
Still, I was attracted to her. The vendor, who is from Pakistan, came over to talk to me, asking me if I was interested.
“Too high,” I said.
“What would you pay?”
Knowing it is holiday season, and the vendors really need to do well to survive the winter, I suggested $45, thinking it was really too much, but I very much liked the impeccably serene expression on her face.
“You have bought things from me before,” he said. I’d bought a couple of older rugs from him last Spring, at which time he had chatted with me for a while and showed me a picture of his chosen guru. “You are a divine being; I will give her to you for free.”
“I bet you say that to all your customers,” I replied.
“Everyone is divine, yes,” he said, ” but you are different. You know it.”
Somewhat overwhelmed by this, I thanked him for the honor and took out my wallet. I had $42 and change. “I will pay $40.”
I paid him and walked her home unwrapped in my arms, thinking it will be hard to live up to his expectations. Who better, though, to remind me to relate to others, always recognizing their inherent divinity (whatever that might mean to me or anyone else), than the goddess of compassion?
Where the wood was raw from having been broken, I rubbed the edges with ash from Chidambaram temple (that I happened to have in the studio), so that the breaks would not visually distract, and one would only notice the sweet face.
Capitol Hill Neighborhood, Eastern Market, House Office Buildings, US Botanical Garden, Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington Monument, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (Sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt), Vietnam Memorial, Street Art on George Washington University Campus, and various points in between.
After eating homemade popsicles. This week’s variation: lemon, lime, with white nectarine. The liquid was an chilled tisane with herbs from the garden; the sweetener, local honey. The farmers at the market were packing to go home. Tomatoes and peaches only $1 a pound. Tonight–cucumber and tomato salad with the second cucumber of the year from my own garden. The salad to accompany whole wheat pasta tossed with garden greens, herb pesto (basil, parsley, arugula; garlic in the pesto from a friend’s garden), and white beans. Later in the week when it gets cooler, slow-cooked tomato sauce and white peaches poached in wine (perhaps turned into popsicles).
Last night, after yoga class, I went with a couple of students to the new Italian restaurant at Eastern Market, Acqua al 2. I’d been shown the inside before it opened, but this was the first chance to go and eat. A long-time neighbor, yoga student, and friend is the mom of one of the co-owners and has known the other owner since childhood. The co-owners were both were raised in the District and have returned after college, along with many of their friends to live, and work, and be with family. I went to eat with the eagerness of knowing my friend and her family better and supporting them, more than for the purpose of needing to be one of the first to check out a new dining opportunity on the Hill, although that was certainly another pleasure.
As we planned the dinner (we have been awaiting the opening for some months and talking about going since then), I thought about how different it is to go to a business where I feel a connection to the proprietor or the workers. I felt more open to what would be there, more joyousness at its very existence, and a yearning to find it wonderful and be supportive. When the business is run by a stranger, or even more removed, some corporation whose duty is mostly to shareholders, the natural forgiveness for quirks that we have for those we like, welcome, and love is missing, and we ourselves miss out the essence of true relationship. Getting to share this new place with my friends was a superb reminder how important is community and how we can support it and cultivate it.
What a delight that, even as a NY-bred food snob, I can cheerfully recommend the restaurant. It is larger than most restaurants on the Hill, so it does not feel like a neighborhood-style Hill restaurant. but I think the neighborhood was ready for something larger. The atmosphere is lovely: communal seating in front near the bar for those who have forgotten to make reservation (yes, you already need them, unless you are coming after 9 [kitchen serves until 11]), spacious, pleasantly lit, comfortable tables, and a great mural on the outside, which transforms a concrete wall a foot along the side of the restaurant into a view of Florence.
We started with the “zuppa del giorno,” which yesterday in keeping with the unseasonably cool weather, was a warm bread and tomato soup that was a rich and flavorful concoction. Given the lateness of the hour, we didn’t have the entrees (though I’ve heard good reports). We shared at our table for three, the pasta sampler (for two), which was five different vegetarian pastas of the chef’s choosing, and the salad sampler (which you can get as all vegetarian if you ask). We each had different favorites of the pastas, but all were good and very classic in preparation and presentation. The salads were light and fresh, with an emphasis on bitter greens, which I like, and were an excellent foil to the rich pastas. The pastas came out one by one, giving an opportunity to have two or three bites to savor, with then a little wait in between for the next one. This was not a meal to be hurried; things come at a European pace. I was too full for dessert, but my friends insisted. The cheese cake is the kind that is more like mousse than the heavy American cheese cake and my companions raved. I had a fruit tart that was well-prepared — most of which I took home. I will enjoy eating it today after speaking on a telephone seminar with people I know are asking challenging questions.
The restaurant is still getting its rhythm. It was packed with lines out the door even at 8pm on a Tuesday night just two weeks after its opening, which is no doubt inviting the staff to live up to intense challenges. The food is sure to be good, and if you go with the generosity you would have for family and friends starting out on a new venture, you will have a delicious experience.
Note: Plenty of vegetarian options with the pastas and salads, but it would be harder to find vegan on the menu (given that it is a Florentine restaurant). My only wish based on last night’s meal, is that the restaurant would use more environmentally friendly containers for taking things home. Right now, it is using foil trays with a plastic cover, so if you anticipate bringing part of a dish home, try to remember to bring your own carry container.