I first met Jubilee, by accident, several weeks ago.
I knew immediately that I had come across a rare personality, a true force of nature. She was a strong high note in an otherwise dull symphony, a field of energy and feeling that cut though the bland winter weekday morning sameness of the village coffee shop I had slumped into after a workout. Tired, sweaty, and trailed by my nervous and very persistent dog, who kept trying to sneak in the door, she accosted me immediately, ignored my not-so-subtle “leave me alone” signals, and pulled me into a conversation about dogs, food, restaurants, people, and music.
As it turned out, I had known of her, never having met her, for several years, through a mutual associate in the restaurant business. But that’s another story…
That dreary winter morning, before I was permitted to go back to my dog and I’m sure other very pressing matters, Jubilee had expounded on the quality of the food and coffee, shared several secrets about the restaurant business, learned everything useful to be learned about me, called a musician friend who sometimes plays in her restaurant and had him get in his car to come to the coffee shop to be introduced to me, and taken my card and offered to be interviewed for this project.
This is what a force of nature does.
I’ve visited her restaurant a couple of times since. It is, naturally, a force-of-nature place, where the sum of its parts is much greater than it’s comfort food menu, eclectic wine list, and Turkish Harem Modern design. It’s theme: fun, friendliness, a feeling of being at home. It’s real theme: Jubilee herself, who befriends everyone who walks through the door. The place is packed, even on weeknights that are normally death in this general part of the world.
So: who is this human who suddenly plopped into my life as if she’d been there all along?
Jubilee was born in Venuzuela to an Italian mom, and a dad she never knew.
My mother always said if it wasn’t this guy, it must be the Holy Ghost. But this guy, I don’t think it’s him, so it must be the Holy Ghost.
Her stepfather was in the Petroleum business, so Jubilee was raised “all over the world,” Her mother had “struggles and demons,” and she was an only child, so she was often left alone for long periods at a time. She filled her time playing with and rescuing distressed animals, “snakes, spiders, monkeys, birds, small javelin (peccary, or wild pig).” She was, and is, a lover of rescues.
I asked Jubilee what her unique talent was.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a fairy princess and make everything perfect for the world. As an adult I’m not so adept at making perfect with the world, but I try to make people feel happy and safe and better than they felt.
Jubilee teared up many times during our conversation. In her words:
I tend to cry a lot because I’m affected emotionally by life. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, you know? Me and Joe Biden, we have that in common.
And she talked about her passion for poetry, and for animals:
…I remember walking in the woods for hours, and I would read Wordsworth or T.S. Eliot or Dylan Thomas and just try to understand where beauty and poetry meet, where inspiration and action conspire, you know? That kind of stuff. So animals were always this touchstone… also this part of giving love, and it’s an immediate thing. You touch your dog and it looks at you and it licks your hand, and if it’s an animal that needs help, I can fix it. Probably a therapist would say that’s because you need someone to come in case you ever need to fix you.
Translation: empathy. Some people just have a gift for it. And a need for feedback, a need for love.
When Jubilee describes her goals and dreams in this life, her terms are impressionistic, almost abstract. “I would like to be somewhere where I feel safe, where I’m surrounded by physical natural beauty, where I can make a difference in people’s lives, but not in a vacuum, not in an envelope.” She talks about giving Angolan kids shoes, about organizing college campus anti-littering campaigns, and making people understand that “life is brief but wonderful, and to appreciate it… you can’t eat your money, you know? You should laugh and love and be conscious of who you are.”
Dreams… dreamers do tend to dream. Jubilee is a born dreamer, an emotive force who really, really wants to do good, who understands the almost-paradox that the best way to feel good about yourself is to make others feel good. Shoes for the shoeless, conservation… and every night she makes dozens of her customers feel like they are special, like they can relax and take comfort in an environment conjured up to make them feel good, like they are maybe more at home than maybe feel in their own homes.
Before she became a restaurantuese, Jubilee was a journalist. She grew up imagining the adulation and celebrity of an actor’s life, but in the end found more interest in her own words and ideas. She studied Journalism and English, and worked as a reporter for a few New York City newspapers. She lived simply, and a boyfriend who was “all about money” invested her savings in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. In her mid-30s, she became “pretty independent,” able to give money to animal-related charities.
In her fifties, the bubble burst. She lost nearly everything. This triggered one of those “tough get going” type of moments. Jubilee gives the impression that she barely hesitated:
I was left with this little sliver of money, and it was either buy shoes or give parties, or open a business and see if I could gain it back. …my goal was just to get through the day and be amazed by life, and be open to that. And I am, but... there’s not always solace in the sunset, but its beautiful for the moment. Some people find solace more in the fact that they have, you know, a warm bed, and I’m always worried about the security being snatched away.
So she opened a restaurant, which she closed, then opened another. Time will tell if she regains her former financial comfort. She dreams of her restaurant business becoming a way to reach people, either to improve their eating habits:
I’d like to go to poorer neighborhoods where I see obesity and I see people eating wrong, and say, look, take ten minutes and you can make a real meal , you can make real food for your people.
Or, simply to make people happier:
I like to promote laughter, so if I had more businesses, even happy little kiosks, corners of the world where people could come in in an airport lobby, this great place, people in and out… give them a slice of love…they can munch on it on the plane…
And, she retains a tiny sliver of literary ambition. “If everybody had a shoebox and they could put in it what they would be remembered for… I’d want to have a couple of good paragraphs…”
In the end, who is this person? A solitary, peripatetic child… a lover of animals and poetry… a well-off journalist who lost it all by trusting too much… and now, a restaurateur who also wants to write… a mother… an Empath (in Star Trek terms) who was born to coax happiness and comfort out of people through the sheer force of her God-given personality. Mostly, she is a person whose hopes and dreams are a clear reflection of who she is, what she needs, and how she can go about getting it.
No good deed is done just… there’s always that you feel good about it. It’s always that. And anyone who says oh its selfless, yeah its selfless because you’re not looking for stuff, but it feeds a person, it feeds you and that’s really a good thing, I think.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” (Lennon/McCartney)