“I used to live here.” In our fragmented world of third person omniscience, stranger words are rarely spoken with such abandon. Mobility has become one of life’s most imposing axioms, redefining community and putting home on an auction block of opportunity. With every move, we check another brief lifetime off of our to-be lists, making carbon footprints with half-lives shorter than the best of us would like to admit. Capital flies. Time flees. Memories remain in light.
I used to live here- here being Elmwood Ave, a quiet, tree lined street deep in the heart of one of Berkeley’s most family friendly neighborhoods. Of course, the first memories to surface when I step onto the corner of College and Ashby aren’t of people, or families. After all, my year in Elmwood was inhabited by a revolving door of house mates I only interacted with on a need-to-know basis- more specifically, when I needed to know why the malfunctioning internet connection was forcing me to sit in my car to freeride on our neighbors’ wireless networks.
What I do remember when I see my old street is my long walk to work and back home from campus. I remember the disappointing bus ride I would take down College on the mornings I had failed to wake up early enough to take that walk. I remember sitting in the back row of the Elmwood Rialto‘s cozy-to-a-fault theater, wishing I were in an armchair at The Parkway. I remember the thrill of approaching the drive-thru mailbox at the Elmwood Post Office, only to realize after I had pulled up alongside it that I was too far away to drop my letter into the box and too close to open my door and step outside the vehicle. I remember the laugh of the bicyclist who snatched the envelope from my hands, slipped it into the box and rode off in glee.
I remember the scent of clay ovens I would catch when making a quick run across the way for naan and the pleasing adequacy of lukewarm chai that the host would offer me as I waited for my bread. I remember the tiny chocolates at the counter of AG Ferrari that I would buy after ten minutes of staring at wines, meats and imported goods that I had no reasonable excuse for taking home. I remember the trips to Gordo’s I would take after examining my wallet and my shelf in the pantry, then deciding I was too lazy to settle for real food. I remember the one meal I had at Trattoria La Siciliana, and how the excitement of having dinner with an old friend and wearing a new pair of particularly expensive trousers distracted me from ordering anything worthwhile.
Indulging in recollections of buildings and food, I step under the eaves of La Mediterranee. Like the offerings of many restaurants in Elmwood, the food here isn’t exactly incredible, until you consider the fact that this, too, is home. Families and college students amble up and down the sidewalk, a bustling scene of collapsible community, a collective soul that takes root at the intersections of life, paying no mind to the physics of being so long as a meal is on the table. I haven’t sat here for almost two years. While life is certainly going on all around me, I couldn’t tell it from the bowl of soup sitting on my table.
The mild, almost quaint flavor of La Mediterranee’s lemon chicken soup is a reminder of the things that stay while the rest of us move on. Not too much cream. Not too much citrus. Not too much pepper. Not too much chicken. Just enough of everything in a soup that’s almost meant to be taken for granted. I dip a morsel of pita into the broth, and for a minute or two, I am home.
The main course, a beautifully prepared set of phyllo savories served with a noticeably tart side of hummus and a few slices of fruit and cheese, arrives with a bit more fanfare. There are probably more notable dishes on the menu, but chicken cilicia is the only thing I have ever ordered here. This marvel of a meat pastry, which wraps chicken, garbanzo beans, almonds & raisins in the fragile folds of thin, crumbly, delectably layered and sugar dusted phyllo, must make someone very proud every time it reaches the table. The fact that I’m eating each roll with my bare hands can only add to its case, I’m sure.
By the time I stroll back towards my car, the sun is setting, and the marquee of the Elmwood Rialto is flashing its neon welcome to the denizens of Elmwood. A long line of dessert seekers wends its way out the doorway of Ici, adding a constantly fidgeting landmark to the landscape of College and Ashby. Crowds shuffle about the entrance of La Siciliana, eagerly awaiting their chance to sit at a candle lit dinner table of their very own. Inevitably, a few diners peel off of the waiting list and head for the more convenient settlement of a Gordo’s burrito.
If home really is nothing more than sharing the same space for a minute or two, then this must be the place.
I really used to live here, and I can barely believe it myself.
2936 College Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705