Heard on the Hill

Photo: Elizabeth Nelson

February can be a blah and blustery month. It starts out with that weird groundhog shadow-spotting ritual, and honestly I think he’s full of it. While it is a short month, it’s a long slog until March. The lone bright spot for some is the candy-coated Hallmark holiday in the middle. Before you start in, hear me out! I know that many smart and sophisticated people proclaim to hate Valentine’s Day because it seems insipid, and the candy-heart approach to love is a little too junior-high-school. They are not wrong necessarily, and yet …

I love it! If a holiday that nearly mandates the gifting of chocolate is wrong, I don’t think I want to be right. The greeting card industrial complex has done us all a favor in pushing something to look forward to in the bleak mid-winter. Life is hard and sometimes boring, so I see no reason to hate an excuse to bestow a sweet or a thoughtful note on a beloved. Sure, we all should be doing this year-round, but let’s be real.

Modern life has expanded the rituals of Valentine’s Day beyond the usual chocolate and flowers and dinners out between romantic partners, and people have begun to treat friends and other loved ones as well. Valentine’s Day has become a way to celebrate female friendship, and I fully support this. As long as we keep those Valentine’s Day dollars local, I say lighten up. Besides, chocolate is a known mood lifter and possible health food if you read the right websites.

Oh, you need gift ideas? Fine.

Hill’s Kitchensells boxes of caramels by Maryland chocolate maker Chouquette. The five-piece Message hearts leaves those chalky candy hearts in the dust and will please even the grouchiest V Day hater. J. Chocolatier offers sea salt truffles to soothe a broken heart, fuel a burning romance, or simply escalate a chocolate obsession.

Jewelry is never a bad idea. If you want to bestow a beloved with baubles you can do so with local merch. Clothes Encounters is an excellent place to find a vintage, one-of-a-kind piece that comes with a backstory. The Forecast is a great stop for a signature piece, and the folks at Boutique on the Hill have some on-theme heart-shaped pendants and rings.

The gift of touch can be a healing surprise. Lavender Retreat, Spa on the Hill, Healing Arts of Capitol Hill, and Freed Bodyworks all offer options for massage and other body treatments. A gift certificate for one is an excellent way to counter the winter blues. Couples massage, anyone?

Experience gifts are always a win. Go ahead and make that reservation at a local favorite or find a new one. Many restaurants will offer a Valentine’s Day menu which may or not appeal to you, so check with the restaurant first.

Show your Valentine your poetic side at the Folger, which is celebrating the recent publication of PabloNeruda’s “lost poems” in “Then Come Back” on Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Pulitzer Prize finalist Forrest Gander and emerging poet Javier Zamora will read their favorite Neruda pieces and from their own works, followed by a reception and book-signing.

If you prefer to observe Valentine’s Day on a weekend, treat yourself to a concert by Chiarina, a musical trio consisting of cellist Carrie Bean Stute, pianist Efi Hackmey, and soprano Laura Strickling. They will perform a concert entitled Voyages in Song, Saturday, Feb. 14, 4 p.m., at St. Mark’s Church. Tickets are $10-$15 and available via www.chiarina.org.

Martin Luther King Junior Sign Project

Speaking of love. In the aftermath of the recent presidential election, Hill resident Meg Sabar despaired over the increased divisiveness and hateful words and actions of some people. Instead of doing something idiotic and hopeless, like downing shots of Fireball while yelling at strangers on The Washington Post’s “Comments” section, she took a different and more positive approach. One evening in December she was struck by Dr. King’s famous quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

She remembered how she and her family used to live in an apartment on East Capitol Street, and her young son and his friend made lots of money selling hot chocoloate to the crowds arriving for Barack Obama’s first inauguration. The inaugural crowds walk along our neighborhood streets from the bus parking in RFK stadium, and she thought about greeting them with wave after wave of quotes about love, justice, and tolerance.

She ordered 300 signs featuring several of Dr. King’s most well-known quotes, posted on local Listservs and Facebook, and even created a Facebook group dedicated to the project. With her kids and friends she began handing out signs door to door. More people came over to pick up signs and put them in their yards, and some made donations to the cause. What began as one woman’s idea became a movement.

My Facebook feed began to be filled with photos of signs as neighbors snapped pictures to share with friends and family around the world. Just taking the dog for a walk became an emotional event as people stopped and gave thanks for the good fortune to live where they do.

One Hill resident, Lou Ivey, who lives in the 800 block of North Carolina Avenue, was deeply moved, noting that his block was very well represented with signs. “Happily, she distributed many of them before the MLK holiday, so my eyes filled with tears that morning when I opened my door.

The project has not ended. People who visited for the inaugration and Women’s March are interested in replicating the idea in their own communities. Sabar is researching a way for folks to have signs printed and mailed directly to them. To keep up with the project you can follow www.facebook.com/MLKsignscapitolhill.

News Bites

Claire Portolese, owner of the youth dance school Tippi Toes Dance, has released a fourth CD, entitled, “On Top of the World.” It offers upbeat, kid-friendly music with confidence building lyrics. The CD is available at www.tippitoesDC.com. Look for a spring article featuring all of the many youth dance opportunities in the neighborhood.

Jill Strahan is retiring as executive director of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. She has been director since 2007 and was a board member prior to that. The organization will now be led by co-directors Amy Moore and Hannah Jacobsen Blumenfeld, both of whom have worked for the organization for some time. Despite the change in leadership we assume the CHAWsomeness will remain unchanged.

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