April 24, 2013, Washington, DC: Washington tour guide Canden Schwantes is living proof that Capitol Hill is not all senators, congressman and politicos. She may spend her days telling stories of great American history on the National Mall, but at the end of the day, she returns home to a neighborhood on the northeast side of the city where the narrative is very much happening in the present day. It’s a place where grills and guitars are dragged out onto the sidewalk for impromptu block parties, where children publish their poetry and adults make music.
Canden is at home among many creative types who live just off the H Street corridor of Capitol Hill; in addition to being a tour guide, she’s also a writer whose first book, “Wicked Georgetown: Scoundrels, Sinner and Spies” is due out next month. I first heard about her when I learned of Literary Hill BookFest, a neighborhood festival coming up May 5th at Eastern Market, where Canden will be debuting her work. Right away, I thought the local authors featured at the festival might make for good additions to Neighborhood Nomads — not only because they’re my neighbors, but because they’re people who know a thing or two about the role a strong setting can play in telling a good story.
Read on for an interview with Canden Schwantes about the neighborhoods of Washington, both past and present.
April 13, 2013, New York: Early on in high school, my art teacher started taking groups of us on outings known as Saturdays in the City. Every month or two, we’d take a train trip into Manhattan to go to an art exhibit, walk around New York, and head out to lunch. They were easy afternoon trips — in retrospect, a simple way to take advantage of New York for students who lived in a nearby town but weren’t yet ready to navigate a city they didn’t live in on their own. Funny that I hadn’t given much thought to those trips, let alone noticed their presence among many influences that have unconsciously shaped Neighborhood Nomads. Not until this morning, that is, when I woke up and looked out a window onto New York and thought, This is just the type of day that reminds me of Saturdays in the City.
Whichever city we’re in, Saturdays in the City are old hat these days. But isn’t it nice to see them like we used to, full of something fresh and different that we’ve never laid eyes on?
March 19, 2012, Washington, DC: In Washington we are regularly blessed with an early spring that elbows its way in past winter without asking the cold whether it minds the interruption. That’s when word gets out and the crowds arrive, tourists and marathoners jamming their way into the city like the season itself, snapping photos of cherry blossoms, running these roads, staring at the sky.
In early spring, we show this place off. We are happy to share.
February 10, 2012, Washington, DC: Lesley is a spontaneous nomad who is at home traveling the world. She will pick up and head out at the drop of a hat, beckoned by extreme adventure. Lesley chronicles her adventures on her blog and agreed to give us a bit of the back story about home base and beyond.
October 22, 2011, Washington, DC: I set out early this morning on a big red beach cruiser ready to document one of my former Washington neighborhoods. It was the first morning in months my bike brakes were cold to the touch, and a stark line of clouds dramatically divided our city, slicing it precisely down its east and west sides. To be honest, the day grew grayer and more bland as time went by, and I’m still considering how to inject some punch into my photo essay of Dupont Circle. For now, I share the highlight of the morning — a photo snapped from the east side of the Capitol Building, five minutes into my long morning ride.
October 21, 2011, Washington, DC: It was Thanksgiving 1990 when my parents first took us to New York City. It was shortly after they announced we’d be moving from Baltimore to the Northeast. At my sister’s request, we visited the Plaza Hotel that weekend, searching its hallways for Eloise, the fictitious character just her age who called the famed hotel home.
That’s my first recollection of experiencing how hotels play a part in the cities around them. Some great hotels would become my neighbors as I moved from New York and San Francisco to Washington, DC. In each place, those hotels down the street would bring a specific flavor to the neighborhood. They’d help cities do what they do so well. They’d make those neighborhoods welcoming havens for locals and travelers alike.
October 6, 2011, Washington, DC: The other night on my evening run, I came upon a man in a bright orange tee-shirt and denim overalls clutching the dome of the Capitol building in the palm of his hand. He was posing for the camera at that perfect angle with the landmark a ways behind him as so many tourists do — whether appearing to serve up sunset on a tiny platter, push back against the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or pinch the tip of the Taj Mahal. I didn’t mean to, but just as the shutter clicked, I ran behind that man grasping the Capitol Dome, disrupting the illusion and ruining the joke.
That’s when it occurred to me that this is one of those funny things about living so close to a major tourist attraction: I inadvertently land in countless strangers’ photos, in dozens of their videos. Perhaps funnier still is that this is a very popular pose — and that it doesn’t look like anything special in person. But once you recognize what these tourists are doing, you begin to see this photo everywhere. (That’s no backdrop. That really is my dear friend at the Taj Mahal.)
Have you ever lived near a major tourist attraction? If you have, you probably have your own list of quirks that come with location…