Something incredible happened on Sunday.

11 Aug

Ladies and gentlemen, Chaucer lives.

“Byfel that, in that sesoun on a day
In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wender on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage.”

—Geoffrey Chaucer, General Prologue, The Canterbury Tales

In the above passage, Geoffrey the narrator describes his state of readiness before a pilgrimage to Canterbury with a “full devoted heart:” he is lying in the Tabard Inn, a Southwark lodging.

Why does this matter?

On Sunday, I paid a morning visit to DC’s Soho Café, a wonderful place near Dupont Circle. I was expecting coffee and newspapers. What I got was a gloriously unsolicited reference to the greatest English author of all time. As I finished ordering my drink, an unassuming man stands behind me on line. I almost doubled over when I saw his T-shirt said “Tabard Inn.” Could it be? Is there someone nerdier than me regarding Chaucer love? Someone who would wear a T-shirt proclaiming it to the world?

I needed to know, and my curiosity trumped etiquette. So I asked if his shirt was in reference to the Canterbury Tales. Sadly, it was not, but he did know what I was talking about. I still can’t decide whether the answer was better or worse, but the Tabard Inn exists! Well, sort of.

You see, this hotel touts itself as the oldest continually running lodging in the capital. It was originally named after Chaucer’s inn. The site says:

Initially designed as 3 private residences between 1887 and 1907, the Tabard Inn originated in the single building at 1739 N Street in 1917 expanding in 1920 to include 1741 and 1737 N Street forming the Tabard Inn as it is known today. Over the years the Inn, named after the famous hostelry of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, has served as a guesthouse as well as a dormitory for the women’s division of the US Navy during W.W. II.

Anyway, sensing my enthusiasm, the kind man gave me a souvenir. He also gave me directions. It wasn’t too far from where I was headed, so how could I miss it? This is what he gave me, and what I saw:

The hotel is lovely inside, but I’m not sure it’s completely Chaucerian. Nonetheless, I am determined to stay there at one point. Each room is different (although some share baths). I also really want that T-shirt.

But here’s the kicker. The Topaz Hotel is right next door to the Tabard! How crazy is that! Chaucer is doing the jig in his grave. Because his inn is next door to the Topaz Hotel. And in the Canterbury Tales, his character, Geoffrey, tells the tale of Sir Topas.

I nearly fainted.

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