A Resolution & A Celebration

celebration

January 4, 2015: In 2015, those of us at Neighborhood Nomads resolve to spend more time where we belong. We got a headstart, actually. A few months ago, we changed the tagline here from “a guide to exploring close to home” to “a celebration of places we belong.” The new description more aptly describes what’s been happening here the whole time: the blog has never been an instructional how-to focused on any one geographical location so much as a collection of observations — a celebration, really — of various locales that evoke a sense of belonging. I feel rooted in my D.C. neighborhood close to home, but I’ve also felt this sense of belonging in transit at the airport moving between homes or getting to know locals in a town I’m visiting for the first time. I now know this celebration of belonging was the intent from the get-go during year one of this chronicle, and it’s remained the thread since, whether in interviewing people about why they love where they live and work or jotting down thoughts about the city and neighborhood. Despite being wanderers, we crave connection, we yearn for community, and we see beauty in the simplicity of the places and spaces we gather offline. We travel slowly, both in our own neighborhoods and foreign cities, to collect bits and pieces of places we feel at home, stash them away in our bags, and tote them along to the next locale.

Celebrating these places and spaces is the easy part, of course. It’s finding time to be there that’s the challenge. We all wish each other a new year full of something or other, but in this case, may your New Year be a little less full, and may you find time to celebrate there, wherever it is you belong.

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Then Came December

fall

December 7, 2014, Washington, DC: I tried to linger as long as possible, but summer ended and autumn raced in without asking permission. Warm days spent strolling the neighborhood on maternity leave came to an abrupt halt. Fall arrived quickly. On Barracks Row, people lined up for dinner at Rose’s Luxury, Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant of the year, beneath golden trees and planters filled with mums. In the blink of an eye, postseason baseball in the District came and went. Election posters were plastered on street signs and just as soon ripped away. The city legalized marijuana, Republicans gained control of Congress down the street, and former mayor-for-life Marion Barry passed away. As the season raced ahead, scaffolding enveloped the Capitol Dome at the pace of an old-fashioned film reel. A glamorous Christmas tree suddenly appeared at the shiny new City Center before we could process that the old parking lot downtown where we used to board the Chinatown bus had since become a sparkling development. Doormen greeted guests at the new Marriott near the Convention Center and we couldn’t remember what had occupied the block before. The front façade of the original Chinese Community Church remained standing but shrank into the construction that near swallowed it on all sides. Next the First Family lit the White House Christmas tree and away we went. Now the neighborhood smells like pine.

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A City’s Shared Gardens

garden

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July 23, 2014, Washington, DC: I used to love walking through Fort Mason’s not-so-secret city garden when I lived in San Francisco. I’d see people awake in the early morning, hard at work tending to their tomatoes and peppers and roses. Their tiny plots were so precious to them. I remember thinking how lovely it would be to one day have a little square of my own there in the shadow of the tall trees and footpath lining the San Francisco Bay, just over the crest of the hill from triathletes swimming laps in open water at the Aquatic Park. I also remember thinking I might not ever live in one place long enough to make it happen. It takes a large degree of certainty about a place to commit to growing produce. It implies a person has a family dinner table to bring it home to. It suggests they’re not packing any boxes just yet and will remain there to see the bulbs they planted months ago bloom in spring. As much as I loved that shared city garden, I wasn’t sure I’d ever commit to one place long enough to grow fruits and vegetables. Even in my favorite city in the world.

More than ten years later, and as confident as a wandering soul can be that I’m not moving for at least the foreseeable future, I still admire the gardeners who tend to these shared spaces. When I walk past the Hilton Community Garden close to home on Capitol Hill or the Biltmore Triangle Garden in my old neighborhood of Adams Morgan or the communal garden in Shaw that a neighborhood nomad introduced me to not long ago, I admire the gardeners there for the same reasons I admired those at Fort Mason. They’re committed. They intend to stay put. They are certain enough about this place they call home to put a stake in the ground and declare they belong.

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Monuments at Night

monuments at night, dc

July 3, 2014, Washington, DC: An old friend I hadn’t seen in about ten years visited Washington for the first time last summer with his family. After a pizza dinner at Matchbox, his young daughter implored us see the “mommy mints” at night.

It was the evening before a DC fourth of July and Neil Diamond was rehearsing for the next day’s Independence Day concert over the loudspeakers around the Capitol. As we walked across the east plaza, our new little friend stopped in her tracks and insisted we join hands to spin around in a circle to the music. Moments later, a fireworks display erupted over at Nationals Park. We watched the colors burst into the sky behind the Cannon Building, and I stood there in awe of all that was happening in my beautiful neighborhood.

One night before the big show, this little celebration was entirely ours.

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City Swimming Holes

Navy Yard splash pool DC

July 1, 2014, Washington, DC: It’s still early, but the temperature in the city is pushing 90. In the southeast neighborhood of Navy Yard, campers in bathing suits rush down a sloped lawn into the water. Parents lather sunscreen on their children, leave their flip flops on the edge, and step in themselves. Even before a mid-morning snack, kids in tiny sunhats and rashguards have filled the splash pool by the Anacostia River.

Georgetown Waterfront Park

Mid-afternoon. The heat of the day. A family visiting Washington discovers the fountain by the Potomac River on Georgetown’s waterfront. All morning they’ve been asking themselves why they opted to visit this swampy city at the height of summer, but now the children run free in soaked t-shirts and shorts. An ice cream truck on the corner repeats its tune, and this trip to the nation’s capital seems like a good idea after all.

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Early evening in downtown Washington. Businessmen and women leave the office and fill in the gaps between tourists lining the fountain in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. They take off their summer flats or closed-toed shoes, roll up their slacks, and dip their feet in. Through graceful arcs of water, they gaze at the grand columns of the National Archives across the street. They take a breath, put the day behind them, imagine Europe. They zone out for a bit, some longer than others, before thinking about what’s for dinner and retreating into the city’s neighborhoods with hours of sunlight still ahead.

There’s a swimming hole on the slopes of Mt. Tam in the shadow of tall, dark trees on the outskirts of Muir Woods. The hole is alarmingly deep and the water is ice cold even after a long sweaty hike higher on the mountain. It’ll take your breath away every time.

If You Go…
National Gallery of Art (http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb.html)

Georgetown Waterfront Park (http://www.georgetownwaterfrontpark.org)
Yards Park (http://www.yardspark.org)

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Happy Birthday Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field 100, Photo credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

April 23, 2014, Washington, DC: There’s something about ballparks. Their charm and nostalgia is unrivaled by virtually all other types of gathering spaces. Today on the 100th anniversary of the opening of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, I’m especially appreciative of those old ballparks still standing in the heart of our cities, now wedged tightly into urban neighborhoods. They’re aren’t many of them left and they’ve stood there as anchors while their communities grew up around them. I recall an afternoon I spent at Wrigley several years ago, drinking a Schlitz on a snowy April afternoon, and I can’t think of anything more quintessentially Chicago.

The Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune have lovely tributes to Wrigley on their websites today. It’s evident in features like these that there’s more to it than the game, that there’s something about the place as well that brings out the collective energy of the people who gather there. The last time I was in Wrigleyville was about a year and a half ago on a drab day in the offseason. Even then, driving west on Waveland Ave. past that ancient scoreboard, the history and pull of the structure itself was palpable. I was immediately daydreaming of the next time I’d be inside, enveloped by the spirit of 100 years worth of fans and ghosts.

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City Hike: Follow That Crowd

Cherry Blossoms DC, April '14, Credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

Cherry Blossoms DC, April '14, Credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

April 15, 2014, Washington, DC:  Washingtonians often remark how much they hate tourist season, but once in awhile it’s wise to keep the opinions to yourself and follow that crowd. The tourists of April are onto something here: a refreshing tradition that celebrates the arrival of spring with an explosion of pink. Sure, cherry blossoms are scattered throughout the city and we don’t need to head specifically to the Tidal Basin to catch a glimpse, but isn’t it nice to get caught up once in awhile in the spirit of something you wouldn’t necessarily do at home? A total mob scene, but a joyous one, and boy, is it beautiful.

Taking a cue from heaps of visitors, Sunday’s city hike took us on a walk down Capitol Hill straight to a Tidal Basin filled with paddle boats. We ducked through family photographs and slipped through crowds jam-packed along the sidewalks before turning east along the waterfront for a walk around Washington’s south side. Crowds thinning as we strolled past the marina and an already smelly fish market in the heat of the day, we continued past construction advertisements along the Southwest Waterfront, alongside Arena Stage and beyond the shiny new buildings of M St. SW. We detoured after crossing South Capitol back into the quadrant where we live, taking the long way through L’Enfant Plaza and between DC’s federal buildings, then going against the grain back up Capitol Hill and arriving home.

Soon enough, blooms will disappear, heat will weigh on us, tourists will vanish, and traffic will subside. In no time flat, the city will be ours again and we’ll be glad we followed that crowd while it lasted.

Cherry Blossoms DC, April '14, Credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads