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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Baby Steps Along the Towpath

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May 24, 2014, Washington, DC: The art of slow travel has some history along the C&O Canal towpath. Back in the day, boats transported goods between east and west along the canal that parallels the Potomac River before railways offered a faster alternative and helped make canal transport obsolete. A journey on the 184-mile canal once took five to seven days, a pace at which the tiniest details of this landscape might have become quite familiar to those at work along the route.

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Someplace Good for Business

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This is one in a series featuring our city neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

April 29, 2014, Washington, DC: It doesn’t take long after meeting local business owner Matt Weiss that we’re deep in conversation about the power of a good location and a belief in this neighborhood. We’re sitting in a Capitol Hill basement known as the Elixir Bar within Weiss’ new establishment, Barrel, a whiskey joint on the 600 block of Pennsylvania Ave. SE. We’re in agreement that this is a curious block. For years, the turnover on this stretch was rampant despite its geographical allure as a strip of the city that connects the bars and restaurants closest to the US Capitol with those on Barracks Row and at Eastern Market. The block is home to a post office, an old mattress store and a realtor’s office, but hasn’t been much of a hub for good food and drink. And yet within the last two years, there’s been a noticeable shift. This stretch is now offering a bit more connectivity with the addition of new bars and restaurants including Hank’s Oyster Bar, Beuchert’s Saloon, Sona Creamery, and now, as of three weeks ago, Barrel.

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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

History Of A House

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March 11, 2014, Washington, DC: Our new house is older than we imagined. The real estate listing noted it was built in 1906, but during the home inspection, we were told it could very well be older. The inspector reported that judging from the foundation beneath the house, the home may have been raised up 6 feet or so, perhaps around the date listed, but chances are it was built earlier, likely at the same time as the shorter homes on either side of it. The homes built on Capitol Hill in the late 1800s , he said, often housed workers continuing to construct the US Capitol Building. Fascinating, right? That this house may have stood here as the statue was heaved atop a new Capitol dome or as painter Constantino Brumidi finished his fresco in the Rotunda beneath?

It turns out the inspector was right. A few days ago, one of our new neighbors dropped off an incredible packet of house history, completed by a man named Paul K. Williams who has made a business of researching local homes. His findings relay the story of these six homes in a row, built all at once and originally of wood by an Irishman named Patrick McCormick sometime between 1860 and 1869. Public records reveal ours received the makeover that sets it apart from the others on this row around 1899, and that it was one of three Patrick kept for various members of his family. One of his sons, Thomas, who operated a carriage making business across town with his twin brother, lived here with five of his seven children around 1900, just a few doors down from his older brother Michael.

To place the people who lived here before us in the context of history is truly unbelievable. What might those earlier occupants have seen out these windows and throughout the neighborhood? Could workers have been hammering away on constructing our home that evening in 1865 when John Wilkes Booth sped through the neighborhood on his escape from Ford Theater? Did Patrick venture over to Eastern Market to shop there on opening day 1873? Could he have known groundbreaking journalist Emily Edson Briggs who lived in the Maples just a few blocks away? Might his sons have crossed paths with John Philip Sousa as children?

House history is as captivating as a family tree. Though not connected by blood, we have joined a lineage of people connected by place. In this strange sense, we are family, brought together under one roof over the course of 150+ years.

How much do you know about the history of your home? We’d love to hear what you’ve learned in the Comments section below.

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Emerging from Hibernation

Photo by Kate Gallery, Neighborhood NomadsMarch 4, 2014, Washington, DC: You can hear a snow day before you see it. That busy city street out the bedroom window is still, too still, the moment you open your eyes. Something is off kilter and a peek through the blinds confirms it. It’s a weekday morning in the city and not a neighbor is in sight upon a hushed blanket of white.

But this morning those days are behind us. They must be. It is time. The neighborhood sounds different — the passing of tentative cars, the crackle of salt beneath heavy boots, a bird chirping and engines warming as the scraping begins. Washington is moving on. It is ready for St. Patrick’s Day and one more hour of daylight, for riding bicycles and Nationals’ Opening Day.

I feel disconnected from my Washington in winter. Cold days and early nights interfere with the way I interact with my surroundings. Instead of walking three short blocks to the Metro at Eastern Market, I get in the car out front and blast the heat. Instead of exploring new restaurants and visiting friends in other neighborhoods, we stay indoors or choose the closest place in sight. Our social scene slows to a crawl, the circle through which we move tightens to near suffocation. In the indoor exercise classes that replace outdoor runs and rides, I’m reminded that stillness can be more difficult than movement, on both our muscles and on our minds. This winter’s stillness has been excruciating.

But soon the ground will thaw and I won’t mind walking to the Metro or waiting for the bus. I might wander through the city without shivering, no specific destination planned. Not long now before those of us who have spent months hibernating will emerge back into the city and find it just how we left it, full of fascinating people and movement and life.

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Photo by Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads