Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Practically Bucolic

Mark Twain once quipped that you couldn't throw a stone in Quebec without hitting a stained glass window. To my knowledge, he never visited Chevy Chase. On a single roundabout--Chevy Chase Circle--there are three churches. I'm used to those numbers. I'm from the south, and, even in DC, I pass 4 churches on my 3 block walk to the metro. Really. But nothing in Shaw comes close to resembling the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. With it's stone edifice and sculpted gardens, it reminds me of those old English manor houses that have their own adjoining church. This would be a great place to sit and read, but the picture looks deceptively warm. I took this on Sunday, after the morning snow had thawed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Can I Get That in I.V. Form?

Okay, I'll admit it. I have been sustaining myself from whatever nutritional value I can get from coffee, French fries, chocolate, and coffee. This is one of my favorite places to go. It's only a few blocks from my house, and, as you may recall, they serve this.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Out to the Birchmere and Over the Rhine

DC has a lot of great music venues, but one of the things that make The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA so great is the food. The Birchmere is modeled after a Mississippi blues club, and in Mississippi, we don't do anything without a plate of food in front of us. (You're probably seen something about that on Oprah.) When we end up in distant and exotic locales like DC, it gets hard to find decent fried catfish or our mama's red beans and rice. Throw in a cornbread muffin and rocka-bluesy music like Over the Rhine, and you've got yourself a night.

I was supposed to be taking concert photos, but due to a series of unfortunate and convoluted situations that wouldn't even interest my mother (Hi, Mom.), I wasn't able to bring my camera, so I was stuck with a few blurry pics from my iPhone. So here's one, in all its cheesy phone-cam glory, of the entrance to the main dining hall, which, I promise you, was filled with just as many men as women, despite evidence to the contrary. From the songs, to the banter, to the Garrison Keillor-esqe storytelling, the band brought 100% entertainment from start to finish. I could try to describe it in words, from the scorching vocals to the throbbing bass line, but, as you can see, it would start to sound pornographic. Instead I'm going to leave it to the professional. My buddy over at District Noise has done a much better job.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Chevy Chase Arcade

The Chevy Chase Arcade, like many of the buildings in the town center, is from the mid-1920s. It was one of several arcades that were built around DC, but most, if not all, of the others have since been demolished. The arcades were part of a trend to make DC more European, particularly more Parisian, since arcades were constructed all over Paris throughout the nineteenth century. These passages became the subject of Walter Benjamin's ambitious The Arcades Project, which was never completed due to his death. The remnants and fragments make up an enormous tome that theorizes the roles of arcades in the life of the flaneur, one of the most significant, yet elusive, figures of Modernism.

Untapped Paris has, among its other beautiful, waste-your-day-wistfully-longing features, a few pictures of one of my favorite arcades, the Passage du Grand Cerf. But, please, admire the charming modesty of little Chevy Chase before inevitably and absolutely blanching it with comparison.

And here's the Passage from the other, even more whimsical, entrance.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maggie the Cat

This morning as I was walking past American City Diner, I noticed the parking lot for the first time. The cars face a wall covered in a mural of classic American entertainers sitting at a lunch counter; and, really, they don't get more classic than Elizabeth Taylor, at least not this week.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In the 'Burbs

Technically, Chevy Chase isn't in the suburbs; it's actually just on the DC side of the line bordering Chevy Chase, Maryland. It's a cute little town with a few shops, an old movie house, a barber shop, a handful of swanky restaurants, and a video rental store that looks like it's still doing okay for itself. People speak to each other on the street. They do that in my neighborhood too, but, here, they actually know each other. Someone stopped me to say hello because they didn't recognize me, but they did recognize the dog I was walking. There seems to be a church for every creed. There's a green grocer. All the kids play lacrosse. It's that kind of town.

And then there's this place--American City Diner, which plays off the nostalgia for small town living, even when the small town is nestled within a big city. You do have to wonder how nostalgic and old-fashioned a place can be when they tell you to follow them on Facebook, but that's another story. They have typical greasy spoon, all-American diner food--burgers, shakes, meatloaf and mash, that kind of thing. The food's not really that great, but what can you expect from a $9.95 dinner special? But it is one of the few places in DC that's opened 24 hours, but only on the weekend. And they have a movie screening each night. April's films include every thing from The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca to When Harry Met Sally, giving you the perfect opportunity to use that "I'll have what she's having" line.

There's another room that's more kid-friendly. It's set up like a cable car diner, and a miniature train circles the upper wall with chugs and whistles. It sounds whimsical, but it gets noisy, what between the train and the kids and the obligatory grumpy diner staff yelling across the room. It also seems a little depressing...It's not the kind of place Chevy Chase locals go for a family meal out. Instead, it has more of a divorced dads trying to have fun with their kids on their one weekend a month kind of feel.

So, if you visit, go for a movie night. Have a fairly decent burger and shake, and finish off with a coffee and "pea-can" pie, because you know you'll be craving it by the middle of the movie.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recurring Themes

George Washington! Cherry trees! In the same post! This is one of several large busts of George Washington that stand around the Foggy Bottom campus of The George Washington University.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Postmodern Daily Photo

This is a daguerreotype camera from around 1840 on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This is a relatively small model, and the process of producing an image using this camera would have required long exposure times, and a delicate, painstaking process that included copper, silver, mercury--in other words, pretty toxic stuff. I took this with my phone, which I whipped out of my pocket and clicked, before moving on to the next exhibition.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just a Little Reminder keep looking up. Beauty is in the details.

So much of the great architecture in DC is disappearing, so it always makes me really, very happy when historic buildings are preserved, even if they are turned into things like Ruby Tuesdays and Fudruckers. If you're a regular reader, you might recognize the building on the right from an earlier post about Looking Up. I can't help but think that these buildings, all in a row like this, look like a movie set, but that always strikes me as an odd thing to say, since it's actually the movie set that looks like these buildings.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Picture Show.

The Avalon Theatre has been showing movies in the Chevy Chase neighborhood since the 1920s. A few years ago, the previous owners declared bankruptcy, and the cinema closed for a few years. The neighborhood rallied around the landmark, and it reopened as a not-for-profit movie house. There are only two screens, with one playing a recent release and the other a foreign, classic, or independent film. Right now they're screening Adjustment Bureau and Poetry, which looks particularly depressing. But if you need to perk yourself up for either of these films, the Avalon Theatre Cafe serves a variety of wines and beers, pastries, and local favorites like Swing's coffee and Moorenko's ice cream.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rule the Air.

The Verizon Center in Chinatown has gone through a lot of incarnations over the past few years. When it was built, it was called the MCI Center, and many street signs throughout DC still call it that. The Verizon Center is home to many of DC's sports team, including the Washington Capitals hockey team, the Wizards NBA team, and the Mystics WNBA team. I don't know why, but I never check the schedule of games and always end up caught up in a sea of red jerseys every time I go out for a sandwich. The first--and only--time I've been to an event at the Verizon center was a few days after I moved to the DC area. I was living in Alexandria at the time, and Chinatown seemed overwhelmingly crowded, confusing, and crazy, typically is after an event, but I had no idea then that it would be my neighborhood just a few weeks later. Like I said, I've only been there once...and I refuse to say why, and I'm embarrassed to even post a picture.

Click here for a small selection of photos from various shows around DC.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our Hearts Are with You

This was the actual color of the sky and the actual color of the cherry blossoms as I left work this afternoon. Every year when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, everything in DC changes. For one thing, tourists are everywhere. (Here's an escalator tip: stand to the right, walk to the left.) Weekends are filled with festivals, parades, and concerts. Restaurants menus take on a decidedly cherry-flavor. It's the one time of the year when I actually like pink. Since we enjoy the cherry blossoms every year, it's only polite that we stop once and a while to say thanks, especially this year.

The cherry blossom trees, which now epitomize DC as much as the Washington Monument, were a gift from the Mayor of Tokyo in 1912. Some 3000 Japanese cherry blossom trees were planted around the Tidal Basin in DC and Sakura Park (Sakura is Japanese for cherry blossom.) in Manhattan. The first two trees were planted by Mrs. Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador. In the late 60s, Lady Bird Johnson was presented with over 3000 more trees. Then, in the early 80s, massive flooding in Japan destroyed much of the native horticulture. Cuttings from the Tidal Basin trees were given back to Japan to continue the line.

This is probably the first of many cherry blossom-related posts (okay, the second) that will appear over the coming weeks. But as I walked through campus today, it was evident that spring is finally here, and I couldn't resist taking my phone out for a shot. I was also reminded of the very reason why cherry blossoms are dear to DC--the perpetual gift between friends. After the disastrous events of the last week, and the still horribly uncertain future, the cherry blossoms remain as a testament to that friendship and a symbol of hope, of life vibrantly reappearing after the bitter winter wanes, and of the resiliency of a people who will someday overcome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teak Totem

I'm really not sure what these sculptures are called, but they can be yours for a relatively low price. While they may not be my thing necessarily (read: at all), I did find myself just staring at them, trying to figure them out, and, in all honestly, admiring the detail and craftsmanship. The House of Teak in Chinatown has a whole collection of one-of-a-kind teak menageries. Now 75% off!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

At Sixth & I

At the corner where 6th St. NW meets I St. NW, just at the edge of Chinatown, stands the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. DC has had a thriving Jewish community since at least the mid-19th Century when the first official Hebrew congregation was founded. In 1906, construction began on a new synagogue for the Adas Israel congregation. Less than half a century later, the congregation had outgrown the synagogue and sold the building to the Turner African Methodist Episcopal church in 1951. The AME church stripped the inside--though apparently not the outside--of most of the Jewish iconography and replaced it with their own. In 2002, the AME church moved out to Maryland, and the Jewish Historical Society purchased the building and rededicated it as a synagogue. What's left now is an unexpectedly beautiful syncretism of faiths and cultures. It is used for traditional services, but around Washington, it's better known as a community center of sorts. The auditorium, which seats only 300, is used as a venue for small shows by artists like KT Tunstall and Joshua Radin. In conjunction with the iconic DC bookstore Politics and Prose, the Sixth & I also hosts book signings by Toni Morrison and Jodi Picoult.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Temporary Space

One of the interesting features of the DC arts scene is the pop-up temporium project. The basic idea is that neighborhood organizations award grants to projects that open up empty buildings to use as retail/exhibit/performance space. They pop up, seemingly, out of nowhere, are only open for a few weeks, then close down. During that time they feature local designers, crafts, artists, and musicians. The one that everyone's been talking about is the Mt. Pleasant Temporium, which closed over the weekend. The shot above is from the Garment District, which is open at 7th and New York until March 20th.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Looking Up

DC is sort of designed to make you look down. It's not like Manhattan where tourists stumble around, craning their necks to take in the skyscrapers. DC's building codes essentially prohibit the building of skyscrapers. There are a lot of big, shiny condo buildings going up, but, for the most part, DC's relatively flat. The buildings in historic areas are 3-4 stories high, and in neighborhoods like Chinatown, you're not supposed to look up. You're supposed to look at the flashing neon signs and bright colors, marvel at Ann Taylor Loft's Chinese logo, peer into the windows of posh restaurants. Eat here! Shop here! Even the bricks that pave the sidewalks have attention-grabbing Chinese designs interspersed. But if you slow down, take a deep breath, and look up once in a while, you might be surprised at how beautiful the details can be, just above your head.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Chinatown is one of my favorite neighborhoods in DC. I live a few blocks away, so it's where I shop and eat and spend my days reading. It's small compared to Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York, but it's still a thriving community. Most of what people know as Chinatown--the long trip of shops, restaurants, and museums down 7th St.--isn't very Chinese at all. The neighborhood organizations require that signs be in English and Chinese, but Starbucks, no matter what language they write it in, is still Starbucks. Around H & 6th, however, there are a few blocks that make up the center of DC's Chinese neighborhoods. There are community centers, herbalists, and churches representing nearly over province in China.

Feel free to visit my other my other blog, On Meandering, for more shots of Chinatown.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

The weather is getting warmer, tiny buds are beginning to appear, daffodil shoots are peeking out of the ground, and, most importantly, candy is shaped like eggs. It may seem tiny and insignificant for some, but spring is a time for enjoying the little things, like breezes that don't freeze your eyeballs and sidewalks that aren't slippery with ice. One of my favorite things is dusting off my candy dish, purchased many years ago on the Rialto on a spring day in Venice, and filling it with chocolates wrapped in pastel foil. As a happy coincidence--or maybe it's springtime magic--Hershey's just happens to use foil that is the exact same shades of green, purple, yellow, blue, and pink as the tiny buds of Murano glass in my dish.

PS. the Reese's eggs have the perfect chocolate to peanut butter ratio. I take these things very seriously.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Lieu of Rain Soaked Streets

It's cold and rainy out. I run to work, run to meetings, and then run home. All of my pictures this week look depressing and dark. So...I'm returning to a few pictures I took a couple of weeks ago as I went to get an afternoon coffee. If you walk around DC neighborhoods long enough, you begin to notice that most of the older buildings fit into 3-4 main architectural styles. I don't think of it as a limited palate, but more as the local flavor. Then, from time to time, you stumble across buildings like this, with these almost neo-Renaissance bay windows. I don't know what they're really called or what historical period or architectural school they fit into. I'm just happy they're there to add a little seasoning to an ordinary day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Glow of Nostalgia

I loved this building the first time I saw it, as in the I heard Puccini in my head kind of love. It's a combination of DC's traditional brownstone architecture, but with the colors and ironwork of New Orleans. It looks like one of those candy-colored Victorian houses from an old Judy Garland musical. I immediately pulled out my camera to take this shot. The home, which is also a bed & breakfast, was undergoing renovations at the time, and, although the porch has been beautifully rebuilt and restored, I haven't managed to get a shot that captures in light what I felt the day I excitedly moved into my new neighborhood.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Laissez les bontemps rouler, y'all.

My family didn’t go to New Orleans much when I was growing up. My parents had lived there in the mid-60s and, especially after Hurricane Betsy, had no desire to go back. I grew up a couple of hours north, in deeply religious southern Mississippi, where we knew two things: Jesus lives in heaven above, and Satan lives below, which was generally understood, both figuratively and geographically, to mean New Orleans. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started taking regular trips to the French Quarter—no, not for the reasons you think. I didn’t drink much back then—Grad school did that.—back then I went for the food, the bookstores, the food, buildings the color of raspberry sorbet, and beignets, glorious beignets.

Today, I could only make it as far as Arlington, VA to try Bayou Bakery. I was prepared, as any good connoisseur of fried, sugar-coated dough would be, to snarl derisively at the first bite and say, “Well, it’s okay, but it certainly isn’t Café du Monde.” Sadly, I didn’t get the chance. They were out of beignets, so I had to settle for “They call themselves a New Orleans-themed café, but New Orleans would never run out of beignets!” It’s true—Café du Monde was one of the first places to open back up after Katrina. It was eerily quiet, not a tourist in sight, but there was an inch of powdered sugar covering the floor under the green and white awning.

I had hoped for a little taste of New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, but I guess I’ll have to make another trip to Bayou Bakery, big sigh. However, I can attest that they have great coffee and pretty amazing cupcakes—which is saying a lot for this town. And since it’s Mardi Gras, I’m going to live dangerously and post a few extra pictures from Bayou Bakery. Feel free to throw me virtual beads.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Good Stuff Indeed

This giant cowbell hangs from the ceiling of Good Stuff Eatery, the burger, fries, and shake joint owned by Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame. Though this is not one of the dozens of hamburgeries frequented by President Obama, they do have a specialty burger named after him, just in case. The story goes that during the '08 elections, Good Stuff had an Obama Burger and a McCain burger, but the McCain ingredients were better, but nobody wanted to order it! Now they have the Prez Obama burger with an improved recipe. I had a Good Stuff Melt, which included Cheddar, Muenster, onions, and mushrooms. Don't miss the Spike's Village fries, which are tossed with rosemary, thyme, and seasalt. Ah-mazing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kryptic Antipodes

This is Jim Sanborn's sculpture "Antipodes" that stands outside the Hirshhorn Museum. The sculpture includes two large, curved metal sheets joined by a petrified log (not visible here). It is based on one of Sanborn's earlier works "Kryptos," which Sanborn did for the CIA Headquarters. One panel has has text from an encoded CIA message, while the other panel is in cyrillic and is an encoded message from the KGB.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

If Dickens Owned a Pub

This one is for my buddy, who not only pointed out the big faces, but who also knows everything about poor houses, *and* just happens to be a Gator.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tear Down That Wall! (And then reconstruct it in a museum)

I'm quite a bit late posting today, so I decided to add two pictures instead of just one. Both of these pictures are from the Newseum, which boasts not only an impressive collection of newspapers, but also an even more impressive collection of historic items associated with news events. These pictures are from the largest section of the Berlin Wall assembled in the United States. The picture below shows another "piece" in the exhibit--a so called Death Tower from Checkpoint Charlie. Other notable items from the Newseum include one of one of the large antennas from the top of the World Trade Center and Ted Kaczynski's less than Thoreauian cabin in the woods.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Toy, Eerie Photo

A repeat of yesterday's location, via Hipstamatic.

I'm more or less in the habit of taking my camera with me everywhere I go. My self-discipline about doing that, however, has been tested by the camera on my iPhone. There's not all that extra weight in my bag, or battery charging, or remembering to put the memory stick back in. And... I've fallen prey to Hipstamatic. The way the app works is that there is a selection of "lenses" that have certain features, "films" that give different effects, and "flashes" that add tints to the shots. Playing around with different combinations makes each photo unique. More than my Facebook app, more than the IM-like texting, more than Angry Birds, which I promptly removed for being the time-suck that it is, Hipstamatic has turned my phone into a toy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Theme Day: My Favorite Part of Town

It's my first Theme Day! This was really very challenging. How do you pick a favorite part of town in a city you love so much? I thought about including Chinatown, for it's hustle and bustle and cultural diversity, or Dupont, with its bars and restaurants and central fountain that makes the city feel like a neighborhood. For that matter, I could have included my own neighborhood, where I feel at home amongst colorful rowhouses and friendly people that know my name. Georgetown gets my vote for the prettiest part of the city for its traditional architecture and English high-street charm. But when it comes to my favorite part of Town--the place where I'm happiest--it's usually at the Reynolds Center in Chinatown.

The Reynolds Center is a Smithsonian Museum complex made up of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. In the middle lies Kogod Courtyard, a large, covered area that joins the two museums together. One of the perks of being an academic is that this is frequently my office for the afternoon. My best days are spent there with friends, discussing books and ideas over delicious, albeit overpriced, museum cafe coffee and cupcakes.