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…

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Comfort Zones and Common Ground

January 17, 2012, Washington, DC: Nevermind how you feel about the suburbs versus the city or small town New England versus the ranch land of the west. There’s no denying that the pull of place, whatever your preference, is a force to be reckoned with. Certain places evoke a physical and emotional reaction from each of us. Some places sweep us off our feet. Some make us sweat. One person’s comfort zone provokes another person’s anxiety.

How fortunate we are to have such varied landscapes and lifestyles available to choose from. But are we predisposed to gravitate towards any one type of place? Does it depend on how and where and when we were raised? Is it in our genes? Does our penchant for a certain setting take shape later on as adults? Do our preferences continue to shift as we enter and exit various stages of our lives?

Continue reading

From The Delmar Loop to Lafayette Square

January 15, 2012, St. Louis: Just north of Washington University a block or two from the arts and entertainment district known as the Delmar Loop sits the kind of residential neighborhood I plum forget can exist in an urban center like this one. Houses oh-so-midwestern, characterized by dark brown brick and wide facades and heights designed for giants, are nestled beneath old trees on a light layer of snow. Four, five, even six bedrooms homes, with space a New Yorker could only dream of and prices comparable to those of their studio apartments, sit comfortably in the heart of this side of town between the West End and University City. The streets of this unexpected enclave are laid out in concentric circles with a straight narrow pathway bisecting them all. It’s the perfect spot for a father daughter walk on a Saturday morning, and one of many pleasant surprises St. Louis has in store this weekend.

Continue reading

Meet Me in St. Louis

st. louis, circa 1980

January 14, 2012, St. Louis: If it weren’t for visiting family, my mother would have been hard pressed to meet me in St. Louis. In the 31 years since moving away, she’s never looked back. It was never a place she felt at home. Having left behind a lovely walkable neighborhood in Montreal myself a few weeks back just as she did decades ago, I can begin to understand why: Moving from a place where young families worked as a team to raise children on the ice rink and at the swimming pool on the edge of a fantastically cultured and bilingual city, the bar was set high for another neighborhood like Westmount.

But there are so many who love St. Louis – from the coworker who passed along a list filled with exclamation marks about the bars, restaurants and neighborhoods in her beloved hometown, to the businesses owners of tee-shirt company STL-Style, who I recently read about in Peter Kageyama’s book For the Love of Cities. There are countless young Cardinals fans in 2011 World Series gear who will grow up with memories of a winning team and a love for St. Louis. My mother and I met in St. Louis this weekend to learn more about the place that those people know and love, not solely for a stroll down memory lane.

Continue reading

Points of Entry

January 13, 2012, St. Louis: Arriving in new cities, especially in the dark, can be confusing and sometimes full of error. The life of a city is often not where you’d think it is. If your instinct has ever been to head towards tall buildings downtown in search of city comfort, urban bustle and a safe anonymity, chances are you’ve made a wrong turn. After five o’clock on a Friday night, San Francisco’s financial district empties out as colleagues head home to their neighborhood restaurants and bars, to their parks and their families. I recall arriving many years ago in the City By The Bay and gravitating towards the height of the skyline near Market and Montgomery only to wonder where the people were.

Continue reading