Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thoughts on Eastern Market

I have wanted to say something about the destruction of our beloved Eastern Market, but I just couldn't find the words. I lived on Capital Hill for five years, the Market was my home, literally and figuratively. Since we moved from the Hill, I often am saying how much I miss being able to walk to the Market on my way home from work, or to stop in for breakfast or lunch. The Market will be back, but it's going to be a lonely stretch of time.

In place of me trying to capture the emotion of what Eastern Market means to me, I asked J&TC at DC FOOD BLOG if I could share with the readers, the feelings they shared today. Thank you for capturing what so many are feeling this week.

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Eastern Market - A Friend In Need

Time and time again, I am reminded of the powerful connection between food and community. We eat together to celebrate, to mourn, to comfort, to nourish. We eat to catch up with an old friend, to celebrate the arrival of a guest visiting from many miles away and to just make it through another day when we need sustenance. We do eat alone, but often we use a meal together to connect to and enjoy one another.

Community presents an opportunity to build tiny or tremendous connections. It's where we have the great opportunity to become students of our interactions with many different teachers, to become part of something bigger than ourselves.

Eastern Market has for years been the best of food and community for me. Not flawless, not without challenge or evidently controversy, but, at its core, a unique place of escape from the work-weary world of modern life and whizzing digital input.

Here, my friends and neighbors have shared in the beauty of food, the excitement of a delicious bargain, a new taste or a reliable standby. From quick hellos to conversations that drag a bit too long, we run into each other and make exchanges great and small. But it all roots us. Some would argue that it all nourishes us.

Monday morning, I walked into the office to a disturbing "Did you hear?" Never a good sign. An hour later, I stood before a battered and burnt Eastern Market, one of many customers, neighbors, and friends coming by to pay our respects. I had to see for myself. It was worse than I imagined.

Hadn't I just been there on Sunday? My freezer and refrigerator were full from my trip. Many words came to mind once I stored everything away: fresh, quality, delicious. What would I make tonight?

Eastern Market has provided my family with wonderful food and a sense of community for more than 8 years. Until recently, we lived just a few blocks away. What a treasure to be able to take a nice walk on a crisp morning and come back with a few bags of fresh produce, meats, fish, and the occasional cookie or three.

Fresh cut flowers, a wrapped up sandwich from the Market Lunch, a container of baba ghanouj.

For the life of me I can't recall bringing anything home that I did not think was first rate. A huge bag of stunning Valencia oranges, freshly peeled garlic, a bag of magic lettuce that would somehow keep for nearly two weeks.

And I usually saw a colleague, a parent of a friend, a business owner I knew, someone I just met at a meeting, an artist I admired.

I stood there and worked over the entire horrible situation. Was everyone ok? What on earth were all these wonderful people going to do without their shops and the friends and neighbors who were in some way their families? After all, they have had a hand in preparing our tables for some of the great occasions of our lives, the delicious stolen moments when Washingtonians stop living their heads long enough to prepare a dinner party for people we enjoy, the quick fly-by snack when we're pushing the stroller or walking the dog.

Flowers to brighten the house when an out of town guest visits or just because. A cake for that last minute staff celebration. Thick, smoky bacon that makes breakfast with the newspaper an experience and makes the weekend real. An artichoke to eat or to pose on the still life plate.

The people are paying their respects. Those who know the vendors offer hugs and assurances. We are here for you. We must rebuild.

24 hours later the press conference begins and I see more vendors from the South Hall, community leaders, neighbors who have been eating food from the Market for ten, twenty, thirty years. People who gave up their cars because they could walk to the market. People who rarely enter a chain grocery store. We are hanging on the words of the Mayor, our Councilmember, the Fire Chief.

The sign says we will rebuild. The Mayor agrees. The community speaks too. The media. We are left with hope and the feeling that we must come together even more deliberately than our Market trips. We must be vigilant in supporting this community and using our best ideas and abilities to lessen the impact.

Eastern Market matters to us. It's not just where we buy food. And that should be enough. But it's more than that for the neighborhood and for those who love it. It's a beautiful reminder of the power and the possibility of human connection. It's family business given the best opportunity to thrive. It's a community saying we value all of this.

There are so few spaces in public life where we can all be together, greet our neighbors, get to know the people who grow our food. We need these moments, and those of us who have come to love it need Eastern Market. There is a simple but vital interdependency here that I cherish.

We want our friends and neighbors who have taken care of us for so many years to be taken care of. In some small way, in spite of all the cynicism in the world and all the exciting and challenging back-and-forth that happens in the halls of the great buildings nearby, many of us know these vendors as family. At the very least we are grateful for what they do and what they produce.

Eastern Market will be back and we will be there. Republicans and Democrats, politicians and nonprofit workers, artists and farmers, parents and children, tourists who visit occasionally and neighbors who visit daily.

We just aren't going to give that up.

How can you help?

1. Many of the vendors lost an incredible amount of food and equipment in the fire. Most have lost their livelihood. The Capitol Hill Community Foundation has set up a fund for the merchants and their employees.

2. There will be a fundraiser at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday night (5/2) at Marty's, 527 8th St SE (zip is 20003).

3. Come to Market Day on Sunday. This is an all-day festival with great bands and entertainment. It's always a great time and a huge turnout would be wonderful.

4. Do not forget to visit the other shops and restaurants in the area. Petite Gourmet, The Forecast, The Village, Montmartre, Fairy Godmother, Tortilla Cafe (also owned by the Canales family that ran several stands in the South Hall), Blue Iris Flowers, Murky Coffee, Uncle Brutha's, Bread and Chocolate, Ben and Jerry's, Dawn Price Baby, Marvelous Market, and more. These places will surely be affected by loss of foot traffic and offer some great food and gifts!

5. Keep the story alive. There will be a lot of attention at first, but let's visit the market, shops, and vendors in the coming months. If it really takes two years, it is going to take some serious effort and promotion to keep these shop doors open. Keep bringing out of town guests.

Here's to Eastern Market and all it represents!

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