Monday, February 25, 2008

Cleveland Park

I live in the Cleveland Park section of Washington, which spreads throughout the northern part of the District of Columbia. The neighborhood first attracted residents because it was the high ground -- blessed relief from the swampy heat of Washington summers. In fact, Cleveland Park got its name from President Grover Cleveland, who bought a country "cottage" in the area in 1886. Similar "cottages," with their wraparound porches built to catch the cool breezes, still line the streets of Cleveland Park. I have lived in this neighborhood for about 23 years -- almost as long as I lived in my hometown of Philadelphia. I know each block, each apartment building. There has been little building here on upper Connecticut Avenue in the last decades, and I have the illusion of having put down roots here. There is a synagogue in the neighborhood, Adas Israel, a large conservative congregation to which many illustrious Jews belong. They know me in some of the stores but not in any of the restaurants. I never eat out. I am a minimalist. I haven't been to the movies since 1992, though the neighborhood theater, The Uptown, features first-run movies. Movie premieres that take place in Washington always happen at the Uptown. In the late 1990s former President Clinton attended a movie premiere at The Uptown. I stayed away from the theater that night. My presence near the President of the United States would make the Secret Service apprehensive. I have, in fact, been investigated by the U.S. Secret Service as a potential threat to the President. But we won't go into that.

Even the pigeons of Cleveland Park know me; the moment I come out with a bag of feed, they begin to fly toward me from blocks away. It is an area that stretches from Cathedral Avenue on the south to Tilden Street on the north and west from Wisconsin Avenue to Rock Creek Park on the east. Although readers unfamiliar with Washington will not know these street names. The stretch of Connecticut Avenue, where I live, that passes through Cleveland Park is lined mostly with apartment houses and condominiums. But the side streets are lined with beautiful old homes, many of them built in the late nineteenth-century. One steps into another world when one walks along the side streets of Cleveland Park, an old and gracious world. Almost every day after lunch, I go to the neighborhood library, built in 1953, the year I was born. There's been talk that the library may be torn down and replaced with a modern structure. I hope not. The library, though antiquated, has its own charm. The library is the home of my ambitions and illusions. It is at the library where, in fantasy, I meet with Shakespeare and Dickens and negotiate foreign policy with Napoleon. Though I never eat out, I imagine that the library is a kind of cafeteria where one converses with old friends and gets one's fill of food for the soul.

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