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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Miles From Monday: Running the Capitol Hill Classic

Capitol Hill Classic, Washington, DC, May 2013

“It was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. We have a better chance of seeing where we are when we stop trying to get somewhere else. We can enjoy every moment of movement, as long as where we are is as good as where we’d like to be. That’s not to say that you need to be satisfied forever with where you are today. But you need to honor what you’ve accomplished, rather than thinking of what’s left to be done.” — John Bingham

May 20, 2013, Washington, DC: We run together through a spitting rain. First as a tight pack and later as a long string of a neon sneakers stretched out over the entire neighborhood. We check the landmarks off the list first, tagging the back of the Supreme Court and the Shakespeare Library before beelining it away from the city in a straight shot out toward its edge. Familiar faces and strangers reach into the street offering paper cups and high fives. Clutching coffee mugs, wearing baseball caps, there’s the shopkeeper from around the corner, the family who lives down the block…

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Ode to The Corner Store

Corner stores, Washington, DC May 2013

Congress Market, 5th and East Capitol SE

“Why go far afield when within three or four blocks there at the heart of Capitol Hill we had the Capitol of the United States, the Library of Congress, Mr. Johnnie’s Ice Cream and Candy Store, Grubb’s Pharmacy, Sherrill’s Bakery and Restaurant, McPhee’s Men’s Haberdashery, at least four churches, one school, four doctors, a barbershop, two corner grocery stores, two delicatessens, a dentist, a milliner, a leaky movie theater, Providence Hospital, four undertakers and Santa Claus?”

-Mary Z. Gray

May 11, 2013, Washington, DC: I recently read “301 East Capitol: Tales from the Heart of the Hill.” It’s a great neighborhood history by Mary Z. Gray, and I told her how much I liked it last weekend when I met the 94-year old at Literary Hill BookFest at Eastern Market. I told Ms. Gray that now when I walk by her old house and the former homes of her friends and family, I suddenly feel like I know who lives there, even though the characters in her stories moved out decades ago.

Although much of the neighborhood has changed since Ms. Gray explored it as a child in the 1920s (don’t I wish we still had a candy shop and a leaky movie theater and a haberdashery if only for its name), it’s uplifting to see many remnants of the neighborhood she enjoyed still standing. Churches are still tightly concentrated in the blocks behind the Capitol, Grubb’s Pharmacy is still open, and so are the corner stores.

I took a walk recently to photograph the corner stores, recognizing them as an integral element of the neighborhood. As an adult, I’ve gravitated towards neighborhoods where I can walk down the block to pick up a carton of milk or some laundry detergent, places where running errands rarely involves getting in the car. In her book, Ms. Gray credits DC’s original city planner Pierre L’Enfant with envisioning mixed-use neighborhoods where that’s possible. ”L’Enfant’s idea for filling this diamond was to begin with squares and circles forming small town centers that would gradually grow into larger towns until they melded, and, eventually, filled out into a city,” she wrote. “Each population center had its own necessities and conveniences, hence the corner grocery stores and other amenities that remain.”

A few of the corner stores in southeast and northeast DC are pictured here, as is Grubb’s Pharmacy:

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