Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Visit with F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald's name is synonymous with flappers, jazz, and bootlegged liquor. The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's tragic tale of The Roaring Twenties, is read every year by high schoolers across the nation. Ironically, the grave of this famous American author is tucked away in a small, unknown cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. The epitome of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald now lies amidst long grasses and statues of Catholic saints. Except for a pile of coins and a quote from the The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's tombstone is indistinguishable from all the other graves in Saint Mary's Cemetery.

Like so many of the characters in his novels and short stories, Fitzgerald lived fast and died young. A heavy drinker, Fitzgerald suffered a fatal heart attack at age 44. Now, in his plot adjacent to St. Mary's Catholic Church, the famous American author has achieved a kind of peace that he never could attain in life.

It is fitting that the last line of The Great Gatsby ("So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past") is etched onto Fitzgerald's tombstone. The story of Fitzgerald's funeral is almost as odd as Jay Gatsby's fictional funeral. Fitzgerald never lived in Maryland. The writer's father, who chose to be buried at St. Mary's when he died, had relatives in Montgomery County that Fitzgerald visited frequently as a child. After Fitzgerald's death in 1940, his remains were shipped from Hollywood, California to Maryland. Like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald was buried in the rain and only a small group of family and friends attended the funeral. It is also rumored that during the service, a friend of Fitzgerald's exclaimed,"The poor son of a bitch." This is a famous line from Gatsby's funeral. Fitzgerald was initially buried at the Rockville Union Cemetery. Since he was not a practicing Catholic at the time of his death, St. Mary's Church would not allow Fitzgerald to be buried alongside his father. Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, died in a sanitarium fire in 1948 and was placed with Fitzgerald in a common grave. Finally, in 1958, Fitzgerald and Zelda's only daughter lobbied to have the bodies moved to St. Mary's Cemetery. 15 members of the Fitzgerald family can be found at St. Mary's Cemetery today.

The Rest of The Week at a Glance:
  • Attended a graduate school fair at Georgetown University
  • Tango danced on the second floor of the West End Library
  • Went on a night walk to look at the floodlit Lincoln and World War II Memorials
  • Ate pizza at Paradiso, one of the best pizzerias in Georgetown. Worth the 45 minute wait for a table. From my seat by the window, I watched passersby while savoring my "Siciliana" pizza (Eggplant, zucchini, peppers, capers, and pecorino. Yum!)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hughes' Hangout

At Busboys and Poets, hippies, college students, and political activists drink pomegranate lemonade and snap their fingers as a contestant from South Africa performs a song about water for the monthly slam poetry contest. A woman closes her eyes and compares listening to jazz with having sex. A man with dreadlocks recites a piece about his grandmother. Until 1:30 AM, the crowded Langston Hughes performance lounge oozes with rhythm and rhyme as poetry contestants tackle subjects ranging from feminism to racism.

Busboys and Poets is a
restaurant, bar, library, and performance lounge located on U Street, the Harlem of Washington, D.C. In fact, Duke Ellington played his first paid gig at a jazz hall on 12th and U Street. The famous Ben's Chili Bowl is just steps away from the U Street metro stop.

The Busboys and Poets performance room is named after Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at The Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest D.C. before he gained recognition as a poet. As the story goes, Hughes left a few sheets of verse for a diner as he was clearing dishes. The customer, who happened to be a well-known poet, told newspapers the next morning that he discovered a genius among the kitchen staff.

This Hughes-inspired room is plastered with pictures of Bob Marley, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Three signs centered on the stage read, "Waiting, Watching, Dreaming." During poetry readings and competitions, the room is so crowded that strangers share tables and people sit two to a seat, a sign that Busboys and Poets succeeded in their mission to create "an environment where shared conversations over food and drink allow the progressive, artistic and literary communities to dialogue, educate and interact."

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Went to the Korean Embassy to celebrate Chusok, the Korean Thanksgiving. There were so many people that the police came to make sure the fire safety rules were not violated.
  • Visited the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, and the Air and Space Museum, where I watched an IMAX movie on fighter pilots.
  • Went to the free Arts Festival at the Kennedy Center and listened to Academy Award nominee Lila Downs. Also saw Julieta Venegas, one of my favorite Mexican artists, at a free 6 PM concert at the Kennedy Center.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Adams Morgan: All That Jazz

Ethnic restaurants, Latino craft markets, quirky murals, vintage clothing shops, record stores, and bars with live jazz are packed into just a few blocks on 18th St NW and Columbia Rd NW. Adams Morgan, one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., attracts such crowds that the nightlife in this tiny neighborhood is on par with the dining and bar scene in the elite Dupont Circle and Georgetown areas.

The very name "Adams Morgan," which combines the titles of two formerly segregated schools in the area (the all-black Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School and the all-white John Quincy Adams Elementary School), reflects the unity of different races and cultures apparent on the main street. American diners stand next to Ethiopian restaurants and buildings featuring cuisine from Ghana. New Orleans style soul food is surrounded by Italian pizzerias, French cafes, Peruvian restaurants, and Mexican taquerías.

During my trip to Adams Morgan I tried on a polka dot dress at one of the vintage shops, ate chicken palak at an Indian restaurant, and listened to blues music at a popular bar called Madam's Organ (Their motto: "Where the Beautiful People go to get Ugly"). I loved Madam Organ's eclectic decor. A stuffed goat hung next to a rusted trombone and a comedic sign read, "Looking for a man who can dance . . ." (I particularly identify with this one).

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Went on a walking tour of Georgetown. At the end of M street, I Saw the famous stairs that the priest hurled himself over in The Exorcist. Fun fact: The 75 stone steps were padded with 1/2 "-thick rubber during the filming of the movie and the stunt man fell down the stairs twice. Students from Georgetown charged onlookers $5 each to watch the feat from rooftops. Also saw Georgetown University, which looks more like a castle than a school (Picture attached).
  • Listened to the National Symphonic Orchestra play on the Capitol Hill Lawn. The setting was very picturesque, as the stage framed the Washington Monument and the massive Capitol Building stood on the other side of the lawn.
  • Sampled paella and listened to "Take the 'A' Train" at a jazz festival in Rockville Square.
  • Barbecued for Labor Day