Gap replaces pig’s feet

Well! All in all, a surprising day. The first surprise was the lack of snow—though, given that it is Washington, DC, a city in which weather is as unpredictable (and boring) as a leaf in the wind, this wasn’t actually too surprising.

The gig at the Monastery went quite well. There were seven of us, so with me left as more or less a pinch-hitter, I sightread through the Mass and then relaxed and enjoyed singing the material with which I was familiar. I found sightreading much easier this morning, probably because it wasn’t 11:30 PM. Dim sum followed with Jim Heaney, his girlfriend Deb, and Skip and George. I regret to report that no chicken feet were consumed.

My next stop after Cheeselord Manor was to be the Littles. George was my neighbor at Virginia my fourth year, and when Lisa and I met Bethany with George at my five-year reunion we all hit it off tremendously. Bethany and Lisa have a lot in common—as Lisa points out, they’re both short Italian-American women with impeccable taste and fabulous hosting instincts. The plan was for them to meet me at the Monastery and to proceed from there. Unfortunately, through a snafu they couldn’t make it, and I drove from Chinatown to the Cathedral to plan the next move.

I went down the hill to Georgetown in search of a city map, as mine is currently locked away someplace. I found a good one in Olsson’s, but not before an unpleasant surprise. Au Pied du Cochon, which was a little hole in the wall that could be counted on for good single malt and bad cassoulet when my friends and I were hungry after singing the Tenebrae service at Georgetown, is no more. A Gap is in its place. My blood runs cold—my memory has just been sold: my bistro is a … true slime mold? [Note to self: get better rhyming dictionary.]

Afterwards I got in touch with George and Bethany and came to their house. Continuing in the same string of real estate luck that found them a townhouse complete with wine cellar full of 1974 Mondavis, they found a 3500 or 4000 square foot house up the street from the back gate of the Italian ambassador’s residence that was built in the 1940s and that they purchased from the original owner. I’ll probably have a few things to say about the house, but I’ll leave off now with the observation that the kitchen contained built-in steel pull-outs for foil and paper towels; the mostly unfinished attic contained a cedar closet previously used for minks; and the first floor powder room currently sports an intriguing combination of brown wood paneling and red and black lace wallpaper(!) that calls to mind some of New Orleans’ more notorious establishments. And a dog that likes cheese. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

The manor life

I just realized I described the “Cheeselord” part of Cheeselord Manor, but not the Manor part. The house that Skip and George own is best described as having a crumbling gentility. It’s situated on a corner lot in Northwest DC, measures about 20 x 60 on each floor, and has three floors, a finished basement, and a tower garret room. The “crumbling” part is due to the old roof, which Skip and George recently replaced, though they haven’t had the chance to fix all the interior damage yet.

The house was built in 1912 (as Skip puts it, the year the Titanic sank), and used to be offices for a nonprofit organization. These days, the front room sees a lot of Cheeselord rehearsals, complete with an upright piano that may be older than the house is and wood floors that have a tendency to slope in unpredictable directions (the last is notable as the Cheeselords have been self described as a “drinking group with a singing problem”).

Skip and George have known each other for years since Georgetown. Skip directs a diagnostic lab around the corner, used to be a monk, and sings countertenor; George has more muscles than I’d know what to do with and a deep bass voice, and composes music when he’s not doing medical things. I met the guys in the Cathedral Choral Society when Skip invited me to come over for dinner one night while they sightread the Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah. As an old Renaissance music buff, I eagerly accepted, little knowing I’d spend some really amazing years with the group. We did a lot of music, from early medieval chant and conductus through Renaissance and Early American to late twentieth century masters like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener (and of course George). Today I’m singing with them at the group’s second home, the Franciscan Monastery in Northeast DC, which is best known for its replicated catacombs under a fairly magnificent sanctuary. I can’t wait.