Washington, DC Immersion Memoir 3

July 1, 2017


The Einstein statue in all its glory is now visible from the street; riding the bus back to the hotel from the Smithsonian Festival, I saw it and I gasped, quietly but it truly caught my breath. It has always been one of my favorite monuments and I am glad that they cleared the bushes around it.  When I lived in DC in the 90s, I often visited it and always took visitors to see it although it was hidden and it took effort to get there. My life in DC! I relished the way life happened in the same space where the monuments and history happened. I would visit museums—free entrance at all Smithsonian museums—during my lunch hour and on weekends. I went to lectures, concerts, and had wonderful conversations with bright engaged people–my coworkers at NEA, friends I met through other friends, acquaintances. Things were happening!

Today, Saturday, walking by the rose garden on our way to the Arts & Industries building where we are set up with Veronica Castillo’s ceramics I recalled my Saturday morning forays to Eastern Market and the wonderful flower stalls where I would buy a bunch of glorious flowers—sometimes I would pick gladiolas or gardenias, or other less common ones. Usually I bought a bunch of common seasonal flowers–sunflowers in fall, tulips in late winter–that would then grace my table all week long. Bursts of color in what I considered a drab kitchen.  Of course, I also bought vegetables, cheese, meat, and antiques. It was Eastern Market where I picked up food for the week as well as the occasional piece of furniture. I still have the antique side tables I paid $5.00 for each one. Later I had a woodworker in Laredo fix them up. When I moved to Missouri I left one with Elsa and the other elsewhere. I’ll have to retrieve them as I miss them; they are reminders of those glorious Saturday mornings in DC. Where we would have a pancake breakfast inside the market or walk over to Le Pain Quotidien for a quiche or an omelet and read the Washington Post.

The restaurants in the area were fantastic–probably still are. I loved the Greek restaurant on Pennsylvania near the Library of Congress and the small neighborhood Argentine restaurant/grill within walking distance of my friend Alicia’s home. It was not uncommon to run into DC figures dining in the eating spots in the neighborhood. One day, at a restaurant, I got up to go to the restroom and ran into Sandra Day O’Connor who was at the table next to ours. In those pre-9/11 days, things seemed more relaxed and less tense.

“El trajin” as the Spanish call the daily grind of life did affect me, though, and I developed migraines. Headaches I had suffered once before, when I was Interim Dean at Texas A&M International University came back with a vengeance. I recall one such incident. The migraine struck as I was on my way to the office in the Old Post Office Building one spring morning. I was going down on the escalator at the Eastern Market metro when I saw a distortion of the escalator steps. I was not sure what was going on and the whole ride into town and on the short walk to the office after I got out of the metro stop, I kept willing myself to not notice and be strong. But when I arrived at the office, Dan Sheehy, who was the Director of the Folk and Traditional Arts program asked if I was ok. Obviously, I was not and he sent me home. I obeyed because I didn’t know what else to do. By then, the migraine was full-blown, and I could hardly see. I took a cab home and stayed home for 3 days with the excruciating headaches. It was shortly after that episode that I sought medical help. I wish I could report that living elsewhere the headaches went away entirely, I can’t. They still come sporadically and predictably—when I don’t heed and succumb to the “triggers” of chocolate, alcohol, bright lights. But, I am happy to report that I have not had a migraine in a while and when I do feel one coming on—usually the aura is in the form of lights or sight distortion—I just take the tiny pill and voila it’s under control. Not entirely gone, but abated and minimized.

Once a month, the Chicanas in DC got together for brunch. We were a lively and numerous bunch; Elvia, Alicia and others who had been there since the 80s told me that it wasn’t always so; when they got to DC barely a handful of Latinas worked there.  Sometimes up to 50 women gathered for our monthly meal. Usually it was around 20. Brunch at fancy and not so fancy restaurants where we could talk and network became “a thing.” I loved it as it provided a sense of solidarity. I met many women there as well as got reacquainted with Tejanas like my tocaya, the attorney Norma Cantú who was there serving as undersecretary in the Department of Education. Our being in DC together did cause confusion. When HispanicLink reviewed Canícula, they put her picture instead of mine! We had met when we were founding members of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas in the mid 1980s; she was at MALDEF and I at what was then Laredo State University. I and other women from our Las Mujeres group attended the first conference; over 200 mostly Chicanas from all over the state met to organize ourselves into an organization that still survives 30 years later.

DC in summer. Hot and humid. Sudden thunderstorms with thunder and lightning electrify the air, cool the afternoon that minutes before had been hot and sticky as we sit drinking a mango smoothie on the mall during our break from working at the festival booth. The light at dusk on a Saturday evening as we walk to the theater reminds me of so many similar evenings over 20 years ago when life was a dream. We walk past Jaleo the tapas restaurant that opened just about the time I was leaving DC to go back to Texas. I let go of that past, yet treasure the memory. Forever keep the good feelings and the newness of first-time experiences in my heart. A heart that feels weary and sad these days of political incredulity, of “I can’t believe it”ness at every turn. But a heart that also harbors hope, like a magnolia bud about to burst into bloom. A heart that rejoices in simple things. A mango smoothie. A sudden breeze to offer respite from the heat. A hug from a friend. A smile on a child’s face when they see Veronica magically shape a face from a tiny ball of clay.

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  1. Masi

     /  July 2, 2017

    Love reading your blog! Indeed so many places we go and visit bring so many nostalgic memories, seems our life is made out of seasons, and depending on what season we revisit, whether it was happy or sad, our memories come back, life and our Lord has been so good to us that we are still able to visit and reminisce past experiences, enjoy, enjoy, while you can, yeasterday is gone, today is a precious gift, and tomorrow, que será, será. ❤


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