Sunday, July 19, 2009


As I observed in my first ever post on here, it's curious how one's memories cluster together.

I've been coming to Alexandria, in the state of Virginia, just over the Potomac from Washington, DC, for 15 years now - at least once every couple of years or so, and often for quite an extended visit. I must have spent 3 or 4 months here in total by now, and I've become very familiar with the city - well, with the Old Town district where I have usually stayed, anyway. I think of the place rather as a second home.

And whenever I come back here..... I feel as though I've never been away. Memories from three or eight or eleven years ago seem as vivid as if they occurred only last week. (And all memories of other areas of my life - of Beijing, for example! - recede into the background, almost obscured and forgotten for the moment. So liberating!)

This phenomenon is perhaps especially strong here, since Old Town is a protected historic district, and thus there is very little new building, very little change to the existing buildings. Also - I know not why - there seems to be remarkably little change in the businesses round here. Most of the bars and restaurants around the main drag of King Street seem to have been going strong since I first came here.

That is, until recently......

On this latest trip, I have been shocked to discover that The Laughing Lizard comedy lounge is no more (transformed into one of those ghastly faux Irish pubs). I'd only been a handful of times, but it was one of those places that it was nice to have available. (Thank heavens the 'Stage Door' N.Y. Deli down below is still with us - the best cheap eats in the neighbourhood.)

Even worse, Portner's - a bar and steakhouse that is one of the first joints my friends here ever took me to - has disappeared. Apparently it was rebranded as Bookbinder's this past year or two, but that failed too, and it's now in the process of being relaunched yet again as The Old Firestation Restaurant (I hadn't realised it was an old firestation.....). Portner's was one of those places that you just expected to go on forever.

Bullfeather's - one of the biggest and most populous bars on King St - has been taken over as well. Expanded and Irished up as O'Connell's. I am not a fan. (Well, I never was. But even less so now.)

The Virginia Brewing Company - perhaps my favourite bar on that strip, although it generally seemed to struggle to appeal to many other people (a few years ago, I watched the Superbowl in there almost entirely alone) - is gone too (now transformed into a rather good tapas restaurant called La Tasca).

Worst of all, Olson's, a fine independent bookstore just off the bottom of King on Union St., has recently closed down too. Darn this economic meltdown! (I am consoled that at least the Book Bank, a marvellous secondhand bookstore down towards the Metro station end of King St., is still in business. I always spend two or three afternoons in there on my trips here.)

No doubt, these changes may have occurred gradually, over the course of the three years or so since I was last here. But, with the compression of memory I experience from my irregular and infrequent visitations, it seems that they have all happened overnight.

It is a brutal shock to the system.

And - since bars (and restaurants) are such conspicuous and memorable landmarks - I'm suddenly finding the place not-so-comfortingly-familiar any more. Indeed, I occasionally fear I may be in danger of getting lost!

Change - I don't like it.

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