Women of Ends

Women of Ends

When Selma Miriam and Noel Furie first saw the old machine shop in the mid ’70s, they knew they wanted a wall full of light. They hired a woman to install windows along one side of the space, which is long and rectangular, and when she was finished, the question of the other wall came into play. They decided on a different kind of window, and now that wall is covered in found images of women from the past.

They’re all black and white or hand-colored, with women smiling or not smiling, standing in dresses or trousers, sitting on chairs or, in one remarkable shot from the 1920s, straddling a motorcycle. Miriam says they found their way here from tag sales and family collections, and while some of the subjects are recognizable—a posed print of Maria Montessori, for instance—most are women rescued from attics and bins, anonymous even to the family members that found them, and now displayed proudly in Bloodroot, the Bridgeport vegetarian restaurant and feminist bookstore.

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There’s a picture of Miriam as a toddler, looking “crabby,” as she says, on a Bridgeport stoop. There’s also one of a young girl in a fussy, off-the-shoulder frock with an expression that could spoil milk. That’s Miriam’s business partner and friend, Noel Furie, the other half of Bloodroot, who comes up to look at the photo with us. “That dress made me a feminist,” she says. “I’m serious.”

These skeptical children became vehement activists and second-wave feminists who came out of the 1970s ready to fight the systems of oppression surrounding them, unwilling to compromise. Furie recalls a favorite maxim: “‘Anyone who’s anti-feminist is a bigot.’ I think that’s perfectly true.”

They opened Bloodroot as a women’s center and eatery, a cultural hub opposed not only to misogyny but also to the meat industry, diet culture, racism, classism and xenophobia. “We felt transgressed by the culture at large,” Furie says. Bloodroot has always been a political act for both women. Miriam remembers putting a “great big sheet up on the roof one year that said, ‘Liberty is a raging woman.’ And of course someone came and pulled it down, and we put it back up.”

Miriam and Furie are both warm-natured and quick to smile. The anger that fuels them is, at least on the day I visit, more of a bright energy than a rioting fire. “If you can keep your rage going, you’ll have to do something with it, and hopefully you can do something constructive, affirmative, creative,” Furie says. Miriam is making rye bread, pressing it into loaves with practiced movements. Furie comes out of the kitchen to take a few orders at the desk—there’s no table service at Bloodroot. You collect your own food and bus your dishes when you’re done. She recommends the Asparagus and Orange Salad ($8) and a sampler of three homemade breads: sunflower, wheat and rye ($4).

I eat in the garden, under a flowering tree, surrounded by tables of women discussing springtime, politics, the future. The fresh lettuce was purple and green, tender and lightly dressed with oil and lemon. The asparagus had been parboiled and chilled, and its grassy flavor was sharpened by red onion and brightened by juicy orange. The bread was excellent—bran and anise flavors were strong in the wheat and rye, respectively, and the sunflower loaf was rich, dense and slightly sweet with a mellow golden color.

Bloodroot started off as a vegetarian restaurant, but after 41 years, the menu is almost entirely vegan. Feminism and vegetarianism are inextricably linked for Miriam and Furie, and their plant-based offerings are more about social justice and compassion than they are about health food or, as Miriam puts it, “trying to recreate those gooey, awful, unfortunate things that Americans eat normally.”

Furie and Miriam are both excited about the current political climate, especially the #MeToo movement, which Miriam says “brings us back to what we were doing in ’77. There was a very strong feminist movement that we came out of. And it all kind of dribbled out. Sheryl Sandberg—that’s not what feminism ever was for us.”

But they’re cautious as well. They’ve seen movements collapse in on themselves before, and they warn against complacency smothering unrest. “It’s easy to let it go because it’s more comfortable. It’s not even conscious on the part of most women. If things are comfortable, then things slide and we can’t let that happen,” Furie says. “Even if you know you’re going to lose, you have to fight.”

Before I leave, Furie takes me down another, smaller hallway of photographs that track the progression of the restaurant. Along with photos of the original space and more of women known and unknown, there are many prints and images of a small, specific flower. It’s local to the area, and it’s called bloodroot.

“We like how it grows. There’s a rhizome, and one leaf and one flower. The flower is surrounded by the leaf,” Furie says. “It was sort of how we saw ourselves as a collective: We’re all together in this little patch, but each of us has our own root.”

85 Ferris St, Bridgeport (map)
Lunch: Tue, Thur-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: Tue-Thur 6-9pm, Fri-Sat 6-10pm
(203) 576-9168

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook. Image 2 depicts Selma Miriam.

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