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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Occoquan


Spring is like a reset button. A swing of the windshield wiper. Yet another chance to see with clear eyes what life on this planet is all about.

If I can, I try to greet it at some cool spot where its colorful entourage wouldn't feel awkward walking down the aisle. You don't entrust your first date to a restaurant randomly chosen from yellow pages, do you? This year, a friend of mine invited me for an improvised photo shoot to a tiny little town of Occoquan, barely outside the greater DC area, and that turned out to be just the kind of festive venue I was seeking. It had it all - something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Perfectly ready for the commencement of the new cycle of life.

The town itself is nestled on the banks of an eponymous river, barely visible from a bridge as you zip alongside the route 123, and hence quite easy to miss. With its minuscule size of roughly 3x4 blocs, it looks like a tiny kink on an otherwise smooth fabric of the local spacetime. You take an unassuming exit from the highway, the kind that could easily lead to another dimension or a smugglers' warehouse, and all of a sudden - there it is - as if some giant temporarily took it out of its pocket as it was picnicking on the river banks and just left it there. A place temporarily dismissed from mind.

The Main Street is the spine of this town, skirted with a row of recently built condos that stand in fragile dignity next to an old tavern and houses from a seemingly different geological era. Theirs is an awkward pose, kind of like when you are at a family reunion and your dad forces you to stand next to an absent minded and permanently semidrunk uncle who likes to wear noodle soup on his beard.

Flowing tongues of the river stalk the back side of the complex, while the front side issues several short side streets biting into the opposing hill with a rag tag bunch of architectural teeth. The blocks are further partitioned by a system of brick cobbled pathways surrounded with peculiar restaurants and odd shops selling anything from religious artifacts to porcelain trinkets. One of them had a tiny little gravel path winding in front of it and for some reason I imagined Johnny Depp taking a stroll on it, pushing his way through a cagelike construction and pondering the meaning of objects strewn in its vicinity. A strange mixture of Oz, Wonderland and a clean junkyard.

We took a table outside of a Belgian cafe for a short stop. The nearby trees were adorned with lampoons, chairs of wrought iron rested solidly on the floor and if you could tell a rooster from a hen on a hand painted door sign, you would be welcome to experience comfort of an old fashioned Gaelic lavatory. We ordered two cups of coffee and some waffles that arrived with such towering mound of whipped cream that I felt tempted to inquire about the degree of an avalanche alert today. Belgians, unaccustomed to high mountains, have apparently very little fear of uncontrollably sliding masses.

If there is a geographic pictionary of Virginia, the word "quaint" should be accompanied by a photograph of Occoquan. With plenty of blooming forsythias around and a name that sounds like a password into the secret chamber of a ceremonial shrine, it is a well suited place for the Rite of Spring.



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