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Washington

Thursday night in Washington D.C. It is cold, and I am full. Full full full. First cousin once removed George is determined to fatten me up. Last night, he took me to Obelisk, a small, unpretentious Italian restaurant with a superb prix fixe five course menu. The food kept coming, amazing course after course – the many antipasti dishes alone would have been a great meal, let alone the pasta and then the meat or fish course, the cheeses and desserts that followed. It was so good, impossible to leave a speck. But by the end, it hurt.

We talked and talked. I didn’t know that my father had wanted to go to medical school but was turned down because the school’s “quota of Jews” was full. George told me that the competitiveness between Dad and his brother, when they were boys, was always palpable; that his own parents – his father George was my grandmother’s slightly younger brother – were shocked at the way my grandfather Mike beat his sons. This is family treasure – filling in gaps, explaining patterns. And through my research on our playwright ancestor the Jewish Shakespeare, I know things about the family I was able to tell him.

A couple with two young girls sat next to us, and we chatted – he a founder of a business obviously doing very well, his wife a shy dark-haired beauty, the girls – Anjelica and Marina – 7 and 9. They were visiting from San Francisco, had been to the Supreme Court that day, were going next to the spy museum. The dad was engaged, open, asking the girls questions. I thought, I wonder if those girls will ever know how unbelievably privileged they are – growing up in what looked like a healthy, wealthy, stable and loving family, in a society which will accord them near limitless possibilities. A life 99.9% of the world’s girls can only dream of.

And yet I was shocked, too – the prix fixe meal, which cost a hefty $75, was brought for the little girls as well as their parents, and they all left quantities of food on their plates. I can’t leave restaurant food when it costs $10, let alone $75. Their bill – I checked, after they’d left – was $518. Another world.

It’s a cold world – bitter here in Washington to the point that the famous cherry blossoms are late opening. The wind was so ferocious coming in on the small battered Porter plane, we heaved up and down so dramatically for so long, that for the first time in many years, I was in serious danger of throwing up. The wind is vicious and biting; tomorrow, rain. And I wearing all my layers under a spring coat, headed soon to Austin where the weather report says 27 celsius, feels like 37.

Today George took me to the Phillips Collection, which I’d never heard of – a small perfect museum, the country’s first museum of modern art, with a great collection from Impressionism on – and an El Greco. It’s in a mansion, like the Frick, and holds, among other wonders, one of my favourite Kandinskys, “Succession,” which I’d had as a poster in my room for years. To me it’s like crazy writing.

And then we entered the Rothko room, a small space with four Rothkos – like a chapel lined with those grave, luminous canvases. George is an art collector and has visited most of the world’s museums, so touring a gallery with him, as with my friend Bruce, is like a course in art history.

This afternoon, I walked around his neighborhood, headed for a more mundane destination: Brook’s Brothers. My friend Isabel Huggan in France always looked so fresh in her white shirt, I asked her where she’d bought it, and she told me about BB’s amazing shirts which drip dry and need no ironing. Have you noticed that when fashion mags talk about white shirts, they only ever use the word “crisp”? A crisp white shirt. I wonder what a soggy white shirt looks like. Well, I won’t know now, because my new Brooks Brothers shirt is deliciously crisp.

Speaking of crisp – tonight, we dined in a Japanese restaurant where George has eaten so often, he knows every member of the staff. Much simpler though also superb fare and just enough, thank heavens. Because tomorrow, I am having breakfast with my ex and his family, and then leaving George’s to stay with my cousin Barbara, who is hosting – yes – a large family meal tomorrow night.

I must stop feasting when I get to Austin. What are the chances of that?

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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