“It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?'”
June 15, 2012, Washington, DC: The first entry on this blog is dated June 16, 2011. 365 days ago. In reality, the launch of this year-long project is a little softer than that — the idea had been stewing for months, but was birthed in its current structure just as we kicked off our wedding weekend. The first several entries were scribbled down in a blue plastic notebook bought in a Santorini drugstore on our honeymoon before they went live in the blogosphere.
This weekend, in other words, is a first anniversary celebration in more ways than one.
To mark the milestone, the next few posts will reflect on what’s happened here during the course of the year – beginning with a roundup of ten of my favorite photos that emerged from Neighborhood Nomad: One Year of Travel Through My Many Hometowns. I’ve loved having an excuse this year to lug around my fancy camera, test out new photography apps on the iPhone, and document my surroundings through various lenses. Read more to see a handful of the photos that have made an impression…
May 13, 2012, Washington, DC: Are you someone whose curiosity draws you into open houses? Someone who asks questions about the narrative of a place? The floorboards? The history? The windows? I inherited my open house syndrome in large measure from my mother, and on this mother’s day, I thank her for passing it along. With my grandfather in the Navy, my mother moved constantly as a child, often spending just one year in a school before moving on. My parents would also move frequently as adults, routinely bringing my siblings and I along for the house hunt. At some point, visiting open houses went from being a burden to a passion, and the habit stuck. I often pop into homes for a look, even when we’re not planning to move. My brother does it, too, and our spouses are equally perplexed by our shared hobby of weekend wandering and collecting ideas. Apparently not all families grow up on the move or captivated by the idea of it.
May 8, 2012, Washington, DC: There are roots we work hard to grow when we settle into a new hometown and then there are others wedged firmly into the soil that we can’t seem to break. We returned to Connecticut this weekend for my high school reunion, refamiliarizing ourselves with the roots that took hold early on.
Taylor St., Nob Hill, San Francisco, February 2012
“As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.”
-Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
March 3, 2012, Washington, DC: We dined two weeks ago Nob Hill Cafe, my favorite neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco. From our little table on Taylor Street, we sifted through old photos that accompanied a Huffington Post story published that day on the death of one of the few remaining survivors of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. There atop Nob Hill, we scrolled through photos of the very block where we sat, illustrating it completely leveled from the earthquake and fire that destroyed it more than a century ago. The information was available at our fingertips on our phone, as if we’d dug up an old time capsule.
In a sense, we had. For all the talk of the pitfalls of the digital age, we should recognize some of its greatest assets: History is accessible. Readily available information offers us new perspective and insight into experiences we never knew.
February 25, 2012, Washington, DC: As celebrities prepare to pile into the Kodak Theater for tomorrow night’s Oscars, it seems like a good time to pay tribute to our tiny old neighborhood movie theaters — local joints that kept us close to home, burrowed into a cramped seat surrounded by fantastic ornamental decor, for a Sunday afternoon film. Places like old theaters once anchored their neighborhoods in a small but meaningful way, and too many of them have since closed their doors. I’m rooting for those of them still going strong.
I have a view of one such shuttered movie theater just outside my apartment window. The blue lighted sign still flickers on at sunset, showcasing the old art deco building even though the theater hasn’t shown a film in decades. I’d give anything to walk out my front door, meander around the corner and go to a movie. I imagine someone who lived here years before must have enjoyed such an outing quite often.
January 24, 2012, Washington, DC: And then it was everywhere. In every book I opened, every conversation I overheard, every article I read. People were curious about why those around them gravitate to the places they do. Suddenly it was clear I’d been pursuing this independent study for years. While packing and unpacking boxes. While working as a trip leader for a travel company. While studying the sociology and history of cities like New York. While writing essays about my neighborhood from Royal Ground Coffee on Polk Street. Over time, the books piled up, reflective of this narrative I was stringing together. They were reflective of my story.
Lens tightly focused on one subject, the proof bubbles up everywhere. To remind you that it’s a worthy exploration. That it’s a good use of time. That these are good questions.
Read on for my suggested reading list on the power of place and add your suggestions in the comments after the jump.
Lower Saddle, Grand Teton National Park, July 2007
“Why don’t you stay in the wilderness? Because that isn’t where it’s at; it’s back in the city, back in downtown St. Louis, back in Los Angeles. The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in nature enables you to cope more efficiently with the problems of man.”
-Willi Unsoeld, mountaineer
January 11, 2012, Washington, DC: It was from cramped tents and foggy vistas and clear-as-day summits and muddy trails that the power of place first started to get to me. The vast impact of our surroundings was apparent sitting beside a campfire in a hushed forest or paddling a kayak across a still sound at dawn. I fell in love with ideas about place by watching these landscapes where change is glacial.
But the beauty of loving cities, too, is that change here is quick enough to witness it. Urban landscapes and streetscapes evolve in our lifetime and morph into someplace new entirely. More importantly, they do so with input from people who live here and love it. As much as the backcountry speaks to us, we are invested back in our cities and hometowns because not so deep down, change is our thing. We are excited to have a hand in it. We are eager to fix things. To make it work. To step up and participate. To see swift results.