Monday, March 24, 2014

Remembering the Georgetown Dinette.

An announcement posted last week by the Georgetown Metropolitan points to the closing of the Georgetown Dinette, a venerable greasy spoon that was a haunt of mine in my college days. I was a bit skeptical about this report, both because the Dinette has previously closed temporarily - more than once, in fact - and another blog's report from just last month suggests that the restaurant's owners also intended the current closing to be temporary. I would still appreciate a more authoritative confirmation of the restaurant's status, but the fact that Yelp also reports it as having closed leads me to wonder whether the end really has come for the Georgetown Dinette.

Like Au Pied de Cochon, an old Wisconsin Avenue fixture eulogized in this space a few years ago, the Georgetown Dinette was a beloved local institution that helped to give the Georgetown neighborhood its soul. In my time, the Dinette was also known informally as "Harry and Emmy's," after Harry and Emmy Choi, the Korean husband-and-wife team who owned and operated the place. While Harry normally worked quietly in the kitchen, the voluble, charismatic Emmy held forth behind the counter, happily bantering and joking with each customer. Emmy could be very direct and disarmingly familiar in her dealings with customers; as some Yelp reviewers have noted, when an order was ready Emmy would typically summon the customer by saying things like "Hey boyfriend, your food ready - I not a waitress!" or "Tall girl, come get your food!" Emmy also had a gift for remembering regular customers' standard orders; once you placed your first order at Harry and Emmy's, you were good for life, as Emmy could usually be counted upon to remember what it was and would ask Harry to make it for you the next time you came in. In my case, this practice held true even when I returned to Harry and Emmy's at infrequent intervals: visiting the restaurant once after a two-year absence, I was impressed to see Harry and Emmy produce my usual order (a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions and mayo, with a side of fries) without having to be reminded of what it was.

As I wrote above, Harry and Emmy's was a place that helped to give Georgetown its soul - the sort of place that is becoming harder and harder to find as quirky and characterful family-owned and independent businesses steadily disappear, often to be replaced by anonymous chain stores and corporate franchises. One really can't speak of "gentrification" in this context, as Georgetown has been a wealthy neighborhood for a long time, but one can speak of a certain inexorable commercial homogenization. If the Georgetown Dinette is really gone, it will have joined the company of other departed neighborhood stalwarts like Au Pied de Cochon, Sugar's Campus Store, or Chu's Café on Prospect (another mom-and-pop that deserves its own post on this blog). It's all very sad to see, and if a day comes when the neon façade of Dixie Liquor no longer greets motorists and pedestrians crossing the Key Bridge from Rosslyn, then we will have seen the true end of an era. AMDG.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March in Toronto.

Along with other parts of Canada and the United States, Toronto continues to face the effects of one of the harshest winters in recent memory. The above photo was taken from the solarium of Regis College this past Wednesday, a day on which Toronto received over ten centimetres of snow in a matter of hours. With temperatures below freezing expected to continue for the next several days, signs of a spring thaw remain elusive.

While I continue to look forward to spring, my studies provide a degree of distraction from the fierce winter weather. Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in the library of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, doing work for a course on medieval liturgy. The PIMS Library is the home to one of North America's largest and best collections of materials related to the Middle Ages, including many original manuscripts and other rare books. The PIMS Library provides a bright and quiet place to work, and, since its books cannot be checked out or otherwise removed from the library, researchers can be fairly certain that materials from the collection are available when they need them. Through the kindness of Father Leonard Boyle, O.P., a former PIMS faculty member who went on to serve as prefect of the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, the PIMS Library also possesses an impressive collection of microfilm and facsimile copies of medieval manuscripts held by the Vatican, many identified by the telltale stamp visible in the above photo.

One of the books I've been working with at PIMS is a facsimile edition of the Codex Aureus Laurensius or Lorsch Gospels, a richly illuminated Gospel Book produced in Aachen during the reign of Charlemagne. The book takes its name from the Benedictine Abbey of Lorsch, where the manuscript was kept from the ninth century until the time of the Reformation, when the abbey was dissolved and its splendid library was broken up. Divided into two volumes - an apt symbol, perhaps, of the fate of the library from which the book came - the Lorsch Gospels were split up and passed through various hands; the first volume ultimately ended up in Romania and the second came to rest in the Vatican Library, while the ivory panels from the front cover of the book eventually found their way to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The separated elements of the Lorsch Gospels were briefly reunited in 1965, when their respective owners allowed them to be displayed in Aachen and to be photographed for a facsimile edition. Thanks to this tangled history, the facsimile edition of the Lorsch Gospels includes the rather unique page of acknowledgments seen above, on which Pope Paul VI and the Communist government of Nicolae Ceaușescu are thanked for their mutual cooperation.

To bring some color to a generally monochromatic winter post, here is a photograph of one of the illustrated pages of the Lorsch Gospels. In the manuscript, this depiction of St. John the Evangelist serves to introduce the gospel bearing his name. For the opportunity to browse a digital copy of the Lorsch Gospels and to inspect more images like this one, you can find both volumes of the manuscript in the virtual library of the Bibliotheca Laureshamensis, an online project which seeks to recreate the vanished library of the Abbey of Lorsch by bringing together digital reproductions of all of the library's surviving manuscripts. For readers who share my interest in such things, I hope that this window into the distant past provides a bit of light and warmth during a dark, cold winter. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Why we need Lent.

Whether you started the season with Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday night or whether you're starting it today with Ash Wednesday, Lent begins this week. As I noted in a post from a couple of years ago, I often start Lent by rereading Father Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, a book that considers the close relationship between Easter and the penitential season that precedes it. For your reflection at the start of Lent, I would like to once again share some paragraphs from Schmemann's book regarding the "school of repentance" which we enter into in these forty days:
Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is "brighter than the day," who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. But what is that joy about? . . . the answer is: the new life which almost two thousand years ago shone forth from the grave, has been given to us, to all those who believe in Christ. . . .

Such is the faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her countless Saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the "new life" which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? All this because of our weakness, because of the impossibility for us to live constantly by "faith, hope, and love" on that level to which Christ raised us . . . Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.

If we realize this, then we may understand what Easter is and why it needs and presupposes Lent. For we may then understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it. . . . The entire worship of the Church is organized around Easter, and therefore the liturgical year, i.e., the sequence of seasons and feasts, becomes a journey, a pilgrimage towards Pascha, the End, which at the same time is the Beginning: the end of all that which is "old"; the beginning of the new life, a constant "passage" from "this world" into the Kingdom already revealed in Christ.

And yet the "old" life, that of sin and pettiness, is not easily overcome and changed. The Gospel expects and requires from man an effort of which, in his present state, he is virtually incapable. . . . This world through all its "media" says: be happy, take it easy, follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. And unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Easter? This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance which alone will make it possible to receive Easter not as mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the "old" in us, as our entrance into the "new."
Prayers for all in this bright season. AMDG.