Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dating Places

I think Virginia is wooing me.

I've visited family in the DC/Northern Virginia area thousands of times; I know the weather, the people, the history, the sights.  I've never thought of DC as a vacation destination or somewhere particularly remarkable, I mean, I know the President lives there, but so does my Grandma.  We casually reference The Mall as though it were, well, a mall.  This is just a place that my family lives, it's not home, it's not exciting, it holds no draw for me.

But on this trip, I've been seeing things differently.  Maybe it's because I was planning on moving here 2 months ago (in fact, the day I got here would've been the day I moved into my mom's house - weird), before the movie changed my plans.  Maybe it's because my Mom would still like me to move here & is subtly showing me the reasons it would work.  Maybe it's just because I have no plans and am open, without prejudice, to what's in front of me.  Whatever it is, I'm enjoying it.

In fact, all the states can fight over me, like boys at a dance.  I don't mind.

Since I got here, the weather has been perfect.  Gorgeous.  Hot, yes, but not the typical southern wet-wool-blanket humid.  The sky is a clear blue and the lush green trees, a few just starting to turn, shine golden in the setting sun, like in a painting, unreal.  I didn't realize how much I missed the sound of crickets and cicadas until I got to the east coast; it is the underlying symphony in the heat of the day and the gradual cooling of night.  I've seen two hawks, dark against the sky.

My mom lives in Alexandria, steps away (literally) from Old Town.  I have always appreciated Old Town; I love the south's historic port cities, especially when they are well-maintained and have managed to hold onto some individuality and character, as Alexandria has.  Classically painted windowpanes flake in a charming, not dilapidated, way and walkway bricks jumble beneath you forming a once-organized and sometimes treacherous path.  Historic homes lean against each other like drunken comrades, displaying their star-shaped badges of earthquake bolts proudly and flanked by grandfather trees.  This city is old, but very much alive.
  Residential Old Town Alexandria in winter

I always feel like I don't quite fit in here, as, to be honest, I feel most places.  Alexandria, and the parts of DC I am familiar with, has always felt so buttoned-down, serious, Southern in the most drawling, genteel accent sort of way.  Women in pearls and glasses, hair perfectly straightened in flattering yet unimaginative styles.  Men in suits, alternately boisterous and polite, interchangeable in their predictability.  Maybe that's unfair; it's a stereotype for sure, but it is, quite often, true.

So on Saturday, Mom & I decided to explore some new parts of the area, to get a better feel for what must, surely, be a diverse and vibrant city.  We took the metro (a metro!  It always makes me feel like a backpacker in a foreign city and I get a tingle of delight and fear in my stomach) into DC and walked between Dupont Circle, U Street, and Adams Morgan - three neighborhoods that are supposedly younger and more eclectic than the political, touristy side of DC I've always seen.

We visited U Street Corridor first.  It was a thriving center of African-American culture until the 1960s when the assassination of MLK, Jr sent it plummeting into riots and violence.  In the '90s it started to clean up its act, and now its a really lovely area with beautiful Victorian-style houses and bustling shop-lined streets.  Walking just one block off the main street, we passed people of every age and race, families, retirees, even some hipsters!  The houses were solid, some classic brick, some brightly colored, with unusual rooflines and windows and almost impractically-small porches.  Set up in a row, side by side in this urban yet comfortable setting, it reminded me of a TV city; I almost expected Dr. Cliff Huxtable to walk out the door with Theo or Rudy at his side.  I could imagine myself living in an apartment at the top of one of these gabled buildings, walking down my front steps, past the lush front-yard gardens that spill over onto the sidewalk, to one of the locally-owned restaurants for a coffee, or to a junk shop to hunt for treasures.
   U Street houses/shops [source]

Walking, we could barely perceive a difference as U Street turned into Dupont Circle, but gradually, the houses got grander, the architecture more classic, and the streets wider.  Then the circle itself was in front of us, verdant, buzzing; there were people everywhere, laying in the grass, strolling the sidewalks, sitting on benches and around the fountain.  Mom and I sat next to the very talented buskers playing guitar and drums for the crowd and let the sun shine on us and the fountain spray catch us when the wind was just right.  I know it was probably so busy because it was labor day weekend, but sitting there watching people from all walks of life pass - there's a woman taking pictures of her baby, there's a couple holding hands, a man carrying groceries, a woman biking, a group of friends laughing, a toddler dancing his uncertain wobble - I felt like I was in a movie and all these people were extras.  It was just too perfect.

We walked through Embassy Row with its stately houses and flags like tropical birds (it made me sad to notice the Iraqi Embassy was the only one with bars on all the windows) to the Phillips Collection, where we saw famous Renoir, Matisse, and Rothko paintings, and the works of Richard Pousette-Dart, which neither of us had ever seen before but we both really loved.  Then we had an early dinner at an outdoor cafe, enjoying the pulse of the city in the waning evening light.

The last area we explored was Adams Morgan, the most recently gentrified area of the three.  It had a much younger feel; it reminded me a little of Kings Cross in Sydney (but without the hookers); it is definitely the spot for nightclubs and cheap bars, and I thought if I were a backpacker in DC, this is probably where I'd end up staying.

  Adams Morgan [source]

So maybe I was a bit premature, judging the entire area by the small parts of it I'd experienced. Point one to you, city.

I have more to tell you, but it's just too pretty outside.  The early yellowed leaves are drifting past my window like dandelion seeds, and it's probably 90 degrees in the sunshine.  Excuse me while I head to the pool.

Today I am so happy and grateful for:
~ a pool in the backyard!
~ exploring
~ an open mind
~ momma's company

xo! n.


  1. Sounds beautiful, mama. :) Go with your gut...

  2. Just across the state line in Maryland you can visit the birthplace of yours truly!

  3. I love the idea that you are dating places. I'm twenty-seven and just moved home while I figure out what my next step will be. I've been gone for so long that I definitely have to get reacquainted with this place. I like the idea that I am dating this area - that I don't have to love it or hate it right away. I can just take it slow and see what happens. I'm not committed to it, but I also can't let my past experiences taint the present. I'll see how well it woos me. ;) What a great metaphor - I love it!

  4. Have you looked at Ballston or Clarendon in Arlington? Those are younger/fun areas.

  5. Ron and I will be dating Houston and Calgary in April, yeah to dating places!

  6. Thanks ladies!!
    Emily, that's exactly how I'm feeling. Good for you, keeping an open mind!
    Ann, I haven't but I will now! Thank you!
    Amanda, I'll be dating Houston on this trip too... :) I can't wait till y'all are on the same continent as me!
    Lydia & Jessica, muah!


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