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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The Beauty of Paying Attention

sundaycapitolhill

May 18, 2014, Washington, DC: Sunday morning. Paul Simon plays softly on the record player. I open the front door to retrieve the Sunday Times. I look left and right in awe of the colorful rose bushes that have overtaken in my neighbors’ little yards up and down the block. White tents rise at Eastern Market across the park. Pancakes, crepes and homemade donuts are being prepared for the morning crowd. Inside the house, coffee brews and our newborn rests peacefully in my arms, soothed by Simon’s lullabies: “Was a sunny day, not a cloud was in the sky, not a negative word was heard, from the people passing by…”  I open the newspaper to “36 Hours on Capitol Hill,” delighted that today my favorite section of the paper features my favorite neighborhood. I watch the places referenced in the article stir to life from the front door. My stomping grounds are truly as good as New Yorkers have made them out to be.

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Someplace Happy

happyplace

October 26, 2013, Washington, DC: I picked up this letterpress print Sunday afternoon at Eastern Market and I am in love. Melissa of Grey Moggie Press sells them for various DC neighborhoods, from Brookland to Shaw to Logan Circle, and her work is simply beautiful. Some of it is also quite funny. I had to resist buying a few more prints that said thing like, “Have you tried it with bacon?,” and “Smile. Ryan Gosling exists.”

But this print was a must because, as you know, Capitol Hill is my happy place. (Yes, so is San Francisco.) It makes me happy when I walk around the corner to pick up dinner at Nooshi or stroll home from an evening art class at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop or jog through the neighborhood just to marvel at the architecture. The neighborhood even makes me smile when I step outside into a dark weekday morning just as the late October sun is coming up out there past the Hill Center and the Anacostia River. And if someplace makes you happy before sunrise and coffee on a Monday morning, it’s likely worth sticking around.

Does your neighborhood make you happy? Where are your happiest places? Share them with Neighborhood Nomads in the comments below.

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Staying Put for the 4th

Washington, DCJuly 4, 2013, Washington, DC: We’re back home in Washington now for a good stretch, just as many of our neighbors clear out of town for the July 4th holiday and the hot days of mid-summer. I always like being in town for these first few days of July to watch the strange ebb and flow of Washington. On Monday, the officer at the neighborhood police station shows me his pages of requests for visitor parking passes as residents leave and visitors arrive. On Tuesday, my bike route home in front of the Capitol shuts down in preparation for the televised Independence Day concert. Multiple groups of tourists ask me for directions to Union Station or the Metro. Each year, it’s as if we inhabit a movie set before the 4th arrives. We see the band practicing its march by the Capitol reflecting pool and hear the sound checks as we pedal home across a national stage and we wonder if a single local soul will be left in town by morning.

There are, of course, plenty of us who stick around. We smelled their grills last night and heard their backyard chatter as they welcomed friends into their homes from out-of-town. We’ll run into them this morning at the neighborhood parade and at our little fireworks display just far enough off the beaten path that those in town for the big shows won’t even notice.

It’s becoming tradition to stay home for the 4th of July.

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A Good Summer Rain

good summer rain

June 7, 2013, Washington, DC: This Friday afternoon rain is the very best kind. The kind that blurs and softens this place so it looks nothing like it did earlier this week when the sky was so blue it was severe against the hard marble buildings that slice into Washington’s skyline. Today’s rain is the kind you enjoy through cracked windows to allow that fresh smell of summer to seep into the apartment. The kind of rain that slows you down after an anxious week and keeps you indoors, for once not distracted by the river and parks and life of a city that won’t stop beckoning you back outside.

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This is Our Anacostia River

Anacostia River, Washington DC, May 2013. Photo by Kate Gallery

May 24, 2013: As the days lengthen and summer begins, Washington professionals begin a new sort of racing daylight. Starting around Memorial Day, we shut down our computers and bolt from the office with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. Intent on enjoying several hours of sunlight still ahead, we hurry through the downtown heat to the city’s edges, ready to maximize our time on water.

I gravitate to the edges. Though I’ve never lived oceanfront, I’ve hugged coastline as best I can, in a Chicago apartment within running distance of Lake Michigan, in a New York dorm room a short jog from Riverside Park, and in San Francisco always a precipitous walk from Bay. Our cities rivers and bays are among their best assets and guarantee we don’t need to save up vacation days to relax waterside. I’m not sure I could last someplace without access to an edge.

And so Wednesday night’s exodus leads us onto the Anacostia, the less popular of DC’s two rivers. Like the more familiar Potomac, the Anacostia routinely makes the bad lists, those revealing the nation’s most endangered and polluted rivers. Yet a weekday cruise out of the Washington Channel, around Fort McNair and northeast into this urban river reminds us of what’s worth of making an effort to restore. Like the kayakers and dragon boaters and rowers who pepper this river after work alongside runners and cyclists lining a brilliantly green Anacostia River Park, we are grateful for Washington’s waters.

Photos of our weeknight trip up the Anacostia are posted here…

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A Tuesday Evening Garden Party

Capitol Hill Garden Party, May 2013

May 23, 2013, Washington, DC: How delightful it is to put on a summer dress and walk through the neighborhood to a garden party! Because that’s something that happens, well, never, Tuesday night was extra special. It was also one of the first hot summer evenings of the year — not just hot, but only-in-DC steamy — which made the music and chatter and cold drinks perspiring in clanking glasses all the more mesmerizing at this gorgeous home on East Capitol Street. It was almost as if I’d been whisked away to another era, to an earlier time on a grand old avenue where neighbors mingled regularly on impossibly warm summer nights.

What made this garden party especially fabulous, though I’m guessing they all are, is the reason this group came together. Everyone who attended did so because they love Capitol Hill and support the mission of Barracks Row Main Street, our neighborhood organization committed to economic development on 8th St.SE, historic preservation, and safe, clean streets throughout the community. In every corner of this tented garden and on the wide side porch of a neighbor’s lovely home, conversation lingered around a shared conviction: the belief that we live in the greatest neighborhood on earth.

I took photos of the garden party for its organizers; you can check out the rest of them posted here.

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