Miles From One Year Ago…

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

June 19, 2012, Washington, DC: In June 2011, I embarked on a year-long project that would bring me back to each of my hometowns to learn more about the places I’d lived. There were many that had shaped me — from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco and New York — and I wanted to get a good feel for their geography, their people, their neighborhoods and their pulses. I also wanted to examine, broadly speaking, why people live where they do and what makes a place feel like home. With ample vacation days, multiple frequent flyer tickets, many tanks of gas, several bicycles, and a few good pairs of walking shoes, I covered extensive ground in twelve months. The project, Neighborhood Nomad, is documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.

The study came full circle this weekend, ending up where it started on a Virginia vineyard. And so with the advent of summer comes an opportunity to revisit the year I spent traveling back to my former neighborhoods. I’ve come miles from one year ago, and I’ve logged all of them in hopes of better understanding the places we called home.

Read on for a chronological overview of this year’s travels back home…

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Map of Mornings: The Road to Hampton Pool

June 10, 2012, Washington, DC: These are roads I know like the back of my hand. They are the routes we traveled to swim practice and gymnastics and piano lessons and school. Yesterday morning in North Baltimore, I instinctively took shortcuts down side streets and noticed changes in traffic patterns, piecing together a map of so many mornings from my youth. We spent a lot of time in the car growing up in North Baltimore.

Given that it’s summertime, I retrace the best morning drive of all: the one that led straight to Hampton Pool.

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A Tribute to the Local Movie Theater

Metro Theater, Union St., San Francisco, February 2012

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.

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Reminds Me of Home

“An ardent supporter of the hometown team should go to a game prepared to take offense, no matter what happens.”

                                                 -Robert Benchley

January 22, 2012, Washington, DC: You know the drill. The remote control is out of your hands. The television volume quickly rises through the roof. Bets are placed. Competition is underway. There’s yelling. If your family is anything like mine, this reminds you of home.

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Neighborhood Nomad: Sara’s Brooklyn Ballroom

This is the first in a series featuring the neighborhoods and living spaces that readers call home. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomad.

November 20, 2011, Washington, DC: Sara is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met in the first grade in Baltimore, Md., stayed in close touch after my family moved away, and eventually became college roommates in two adjoining 80-square-foot dorm rooms in Manhattan. When Sara first emailed me this summer about her new place in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, I couldn’t picture it. “I found a new apartment just a couple of blocks away from my current one,” she wrote. “Let’s just say I think my new apartment used to be the ballroom!”

Then she sent a photo. Wow. Then I saw for myself last weekend. Double wow.

Read on for an interview (and photos!) with Sara about her Brooklyn Ballroom.

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Baltimore’s Federal Hill: Views at Dusk

October 28, 2011, Washington, DC: Earlier this week, I climbed Federal Hill to watch dusk fall over Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. My return to Baltimore that day had been lackluster at best, but as night fell downtown and the city started to sparkle, I recalled the many good things about living here from 1984-1991. Only in retrospect do I understand that I lived in Baltimore at a unique time in the midst of a notable urban renewal.

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