I knew after my family returned from our trip around the world that I would need to broaden my horizons at home beyond the familiar triangle of roads that connected Whole Foods to Giant to Trader Joe’s. Compartmentalizing my grocery shopping could no longer serve as my peak adventure; I was ready for something more.
I decided to wedge the new sense of myself as Traveler into the former, homebody version of me by making excursions to local destinations and writing about my experiences. I thought of it as kind of a friend’s guide to fun goings-on and dubbed it Resident Tourist.
The blog gave me a much-needed structure and a goal---a reason to get out and experience DC and its environs through the eyes of a visitor. Museums and markets; lively neighborhoods and nearby towns; greenhouses and gardens I’d meant to visit for years, became assignments. I had to go---a post must be written.
I was as easily tricked into this faux reporter’s role as someone who begins to arrive on time by setting home clocks a few minutes ahead. I knew it wasn’t real, but it did the trick.
But then something unexpected happened. The faux became real.
Steve Hull, who I’d met during a post-world-trip interview for the magazine, asked to include Resident Tourist on the newly-designed Bethesda Magazine website. Suddenly the whole enterprise moved from a private, almost secret, creative outlet to a real venture with actual readers. I was thrilled.
Much like a new devotion to jogging may lead you to finally trying Pilates or rock climbing, the task of exploring and writing, gave way to other big ideas. After years of aimless imaginings about my own future, the usual haze was beginning to clear. This new version of me---a person who wrote and photographed and conceived of things became the same sort of person who might go to graduate school and start a whole new life chapter.
So now I find myself on the verge of a new career as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. I’m in the midst of my teaching internship and hope to find a job beginning next semester. I have been alternately overwhelmed, excited and exhausted.
Writing Resident Tourist was a perfect antidote to the demands of graduate school with its research papers and in-depth studies of linguistics, methods, and assessment design. Nothing was a better break from fine-tuning a critical review than bicycling through the city streets with hundreds of pedalers dressed in tweed or dangling from a zipline harness or ambling through the charming streets of Frederick or St. Michaels.
But I find I’m unable to gracefully mesh the duties of full-time teaching with the pleasurable pursuit of blogging. And my sense of adventure now comes from seeing the world through the eyes of the students I work with - young people from Burma and Guatemala, China and India. Their dreams are modest, their stories inspiring. I've stumbled into my dream job.
So, with this new calling on the horizon, I find that I have to let go of this great opportunity that Steve provided. With more than a twinge of sadness, this post bids farewell to Resident Tourist. For now.
Thank you Steve Hull and the staff at Bethesda Magazine for your support. And thanks to you all for reading Resident Tourist.
On a recent gorgeous afternoon, I found myself quite surrounded by the colors of autumn. The trees, yes, but also the herringboned and flannelled prints of hipsters young and old who’d assembled for the Dandies and Quaintrelle's 2011 Tweed Ride. D&Q, "a Washington, DC based social group, organizes and hosts vintage-inspired, stylish events in partnership with and in support of noble causes...[and] is founded on the ideals of refined style and purposeful living."
I felt as though I’d stumbled onto a movie set for Bonnie and Clyde, milling about through the cast of extras dressed to the nines in asymmetric hats and seamed stockings or leather braces and rakishly angled fedoras.
Newsboys in flat caps and knickerbockers flirted with dames in argyle sweaters and wool pencil skirts. There wasn’t an expression of tweed left uninterpreted.
After mingling and admiring in the park, a dashing chap rang a sturdy handbell and off we went (all 800 or so of us) on a leisurely bicycle ride through the streets of Washington, D.C., inspiring stares and horn beeping of the fondest order.
Route marshals, holding “thank you” signs to appease the traffic, waved us through intersections and on past the White House.
As part of this cast from the past, you can pedal your tweed-adorned self from Meridian Hill Park to Eastern Market, pausing only to make sure your cameo pin is still secure and to steal a quick sip from your hipflask.
Make a sport of hunting for cloche hats or Oxford shoes at your favorite thrift stores and stock up for next year’s gathering. Or, if you can’t wait for next fall, aim for the equally well-dressed Seersucker Social come spring.
If you live near Bethesda, within an hour you could be part of the latest extreme action craze: dangling from a steel cable and whirring from one big tree trunk to another. It seems that everyone’s trying zip-lining these days.
Before 2002, it would have been unlikely to have a friend share zip-line stories over drinks, but now you can’t hoist a beer without knocking into someone who’s harnessed up and zipped. And the number of thrill-seekers has been doubling each year since 2008. In our area, there are three nearby canopy tours and many more within a few hours drive.
Recently, I found myself sweaty-palmed and inching across slender balance beams suspended above the forest floor, wishing the obstacle course features of the park weren’t so darned high up.
It isn’t enough to just ride across vast clearings on your line, you also have to swing Tarzan-style into giant nets and crawl through hanging tunnels.
My kids loved it, though from now on, I’ll be quite happy to stay on the ground. You have until mid-December to try it for yourself and share tales of your own harness-fittings at this year's seasonal parties.
Maybe you’ve been to the Renaissance Festival and have noticed that people---adult people and lots of them---really love to play dress-up. There’s something liberating, it seems, about becoming someone else for a while.
Whether a temporary wench from medieval times in a fetching leather bustier or a kilt-sporting woodsman gnawing at a roasted turkey leg, you can walk amongst the colorful flags and crystal shops with cheer---your government day job just a hazy, future-tense prospect.
In costume, you are a character on a set, free to improvise different lines for a while, far from your cubicle and pinching office shoes.
Short of a Halloween party, the RennFest was the most acceptable place to dress-up and release your inner “other.”
Until Silver Spring’s Zombie Walk, that is.
Apparently, there are hundreds of the undead among us. Ellsworth Street and Georgia Avenue has teemed with them once a year since 2008. This year, the zombies come out on October 22nd.
Heads, bloody and still sticking to the hatchets that cleaved them, desperate fingers reaching from outstretched tattered sleeves, pale empty faces moaning for “Brains!” Zombie couples, zombie superheroes, and little zombie babies parade past the Discovery building, toward the specially-scheduled zombie movies at the AFI. It is a sight of sore eyes!
If you are not the zombie-dressing sort, come for the spectacle of it. (Though you may find that, like when you are inside the wooden fences of the RennFest, the one who looks strangest is the jeans-wearing, camera-toting, stuck-in-the-modern-moment YOU!)
For me, besides the presence of your best friends, the perfect girls’ getaway includes three ingredients: physical exertion---preferably something outdoors; a bit of pampering; and good food (with a glass or two of wine). You’ll find all these in St. Michaels, Maryland and great shopping, too.
Even if you take afternoon tea at the elegant Robert Morris Inn there, you should still indulge in a cone from the Scottish Highland Creamery before pedaling away. While it’s true that you’ll have had your fill of scones and Darjeeling, you’ll be burning lots of calories with your bicycling, so don’t miss the chance for a scoop at this shop. Owner Victor Barlow began working at an Italian ice cream parlor in Edinburgh when he was only 15 and he’s brought the “secret family recipes” to Oxford. It seems only polite to give them a taste.
Or, take full advantage of your watery location by booking a kayaking excursion. ‘Peake Paddle Tours offers guided boating trips through local salty marshes or freshwater streams. I recommend gliding along the waters that thread through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge’s 25,000 protected acres (in nearby Cambridge). Fall is the best time to spot waterfowl or soaring eagles.
For pampering, head to the Inn at Perry Cabin’s Linden Spa for a floral-infused massage or pedicure. You and your friends can sip cool cucumber water while robed in terry cloth by the infinity pool while you wait your turn.
You won’t go wrong sharing a perfect thin crusted wood-fired pizza and salads at Ava’s. Or, if the Eastern Shore means steamed crabs to you, split a half-bushel in the screened porch dining room at the Crab Claw near the (very worth visting) Maritime Museum.
Attractive B&B’s dot the area. After breakfast at yours, find a few antique treasures to take home.
My friend Gail presses oranges each morning now with a green, cast-iron, vintage (seriously heavy) juicer she admired for its practical and sculptural appeal. We girlfriends were there to help her carry it to the car. Think of all the cool things you can help each other fit into the trunk---souvenirs of a great girlfriends’ getaway.
In 2004, after five years of redevelopment, a playful marketing campaign got the word out that Silver Spring had finally “sprung.” Last night, as I entered downtown’s new concert venue, The Fillmore, to see Mary J. Blige, I felt the biggest bounce since the AFI’s Silver Theatre rolled out the red carpet for its first Silver Docs film festival eight years ago. With the opening of The Fillmore, Downtown Silver Spring has made another giant leap toward being a hip destination.
Unfortunately, the palpable excitement amongst the people in line, dressed up to see one of the greatest R&B singers around, began to wane after the first hour of line standing. Doors were supposed to open at 7, but at 8 we were still making friends with MJB fans in front of and behind us and watching the mounted police patrol the streets.
The Golden Flame, an overlooked bar on Fenton, must have seen a nice up-tick in its nightly receipts thanks to frustrated concertgoers, eager to keep their spirits up (and their hair dry), who ducked into the throwback cocktail lounge for flavored vodka or a glass of wine, killing time.
Finally, after dark, we reached the fancy LA-style front-door canopies and the wands of security guards.
Once in, moods lifted as high as the crystal chandeliers sparkling over the wooden dance floor. The Fillmore is both elegant and cool, a spacious interior with bars aplenty, dramatic lighting, and vibrant concert posters decorating the walls.
When the site remedies its inexplicable entry delays, I can’t imagine a better local place to see your favorite performer. Season ticket holders get seats on the second level perimeter with great views of the stage and the happy throngs below.
Mary J. had the crowd singing along as they held cell phones and cameras aloft, recording the memorable scene.
Silver Sprung, baby.
My husband and I and our friends Gail and Dave were recently among the throng that poured in for an evening on newly revitalized H Street, NE. Several lively blocks long (edged by streets that still feel a little sketchy), the corridor offers night-life choices that are varied and eclectic, with lots of stylish eateries and cozy gastro-pubs. You walk along, past the art deco Atlas Theatre sign and glowing windows, taking in the streetscape as the night moves in, feeling like you’re in a place that’s really coming to life.
Sticky Rice, a sushi restaurant that has got to be the only one of its kind to feature not only sashimi and tempura, but tater tots, was a fun first stop. The sushi rolls have sassy names (“shiitake happens,” “happy hippy”) and the ambiance tilts toward funky rather than one with an Asian sensibility. Of course, we had tots, too. How can you not tot?
Gail had gotten us tickets to a musical performance (there are plenty of places to hear live music on H Street), and we had time to kill before the doors opened. We stepped briefly inside Granville Moore’s where I instantly agreed to Gail’s request that we come back another night soon for Belgian beers and mussels in that softly-lit historical barroom. Many appealing bars and restaurants line the walk, beguiling passersby with hip, warm interiors and unique menus.
The lure of a half-hour at a beer-barrel table under strands of colored lights led us to the Bavarian-themed Biergarten Haus. We hoisted giant steins of coppery dopplebocks before joining the crowded floor for Bill Callahan's haunting prairie-themed songs at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
In spite of its name, the Hotel is not a place to stay for the night, though there are themed party rooms for rent upstairs to spend hours reveling with friends. The main floor is a concert space and the one we attended was a tightly-packed standing room kind of scene best enjoyed by taller folks than I.
The nearby all-night pie shop was the perfect spot for post-concert recovery.
(I propose a new rule: every neighborhood must have its own all-night pie shop.)
My friend Lynn and I recently visited her daughter, who’s a student at VCU. I had been to Richmond before, but the scenes and impressions were all lost to memory and I looked forward to re-discovering the hidden angles and edges of Virginia’s capital city.
Maddie is an art major and was keen to show us not only the galleries near her house in Jackson Ward (J Ward, to those in the know), but the objets d’art nearest to her heart: the neighborhood’s abandoned buildings and empty lots. We called it the “Maddie Tour” and knew we were getting a different look at the city than most visitors.
Maddie’s street is typical for J Ward: red brick townhouses bordered by wrought iron fences. This part of Richmond is second only to New Orleans in its use of decorative cast iron. That, and the 600 homes listed on the National Registry make J Ward great strolling grounds for architecture lovers. The entire district is a National Historic Landmark.
Jackson Ward is like a perfect half moon: exactly in between waxing and waning. We saw lots of boarded up storefronts, but also artsy shops like Quirk (also exhibiting artworks) and hip coffee joints like Lift.
Art galleries have tucked in, enjoying the lower rents of a half-moon part of town. Older businesses, like Eugene’s Barbershop, run by Eugene’s grandchildren, are still getting by, but other spots, like all 22 floors of the Central National Bank building, are only filled with ghosts and crumbling walls. Fearless Maddie led us right to the old revolving door and in we went! I felt like we were walking in an artwork titled “What Was.”
We had lunch inside the honey-colored walls of Mama J’s, a restaurant specializing in comfort food. And you do feel comforted from the moment you walk in hungry until you leave with a belly-full of greens, catfish, and macaroni-&-cheese.
Richmond is best known for its history as the Capital of the Confederacy, but art-lovers take note: the city is a haven for artists and rich with design. Even the Police Station looks artsy.
If you’ve been meaning to visit the very-cool American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, now’s the time to go. Summertime Thursday evening admissions are free from 5 to 9, followed by movies shown under the stars on a 30-foot outdoor screen.
If you have (or if you are) someone who doesn’t mind a late drive home, this is a bit of heaven: An outdoor movie watched from a nice hillside after taking in a playful and expansive display of works by self-taught artists. You can bring a picnic along or buy popcorn and hotdogs on site.
The movies this summer celebrate the theme of the museum’s biggest current exhibit, "What Makes Us Smile?" co-curated by founder Rebecca Hoffberger, artist Gary Panter, and Simpson’s creator Matt Groening. Comedic films from “Airplane!” to “Some Like it Hot” are scheduled for screening. Click here for the line-up.
The museum itself is a joy. After checking out the whimsical sculpture garden and once you’ve admired Nadya Volicer's “Smile” welcome mat made from recycled toothbrushes, follow a hallway festooned with the boxes of your most beloved childhood board games, dangling model planes and helicopters to the three-floor gallery. It's the kind of place that features a massive collection of Pez dispensers and a Whoopee Cushion bench.
The day I visited, I lingered longest in a space staged as a bedroom featuring a bed with a headboard of beads and beetle wings made into an intricate and spot-on portrait of MAD Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman by artist Patty Kuzbida.
A glass case filled to brimming with vintage toys arranged in a scene both static and busy stood nearby, including a parade of every action figurine from under your brother’s childhood bed snaking around a double-decker London bus and toy cars of all makes and models.
Steps away, a dog made from guitar parts, picks, and sequins posed under an archway of coconut heads; an enormous and elaborate candy-dotted gingerbread house filled a corner of the room; a blue Electrolux refitted into a space rocket dangled from the ceiling; and this quote from Bill Cosby was painted on the wall:
“Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home.”
If yours are back home, take them to see a free outdoor movie and the coolest art around at the AVAM in Baltimore.
The Smithsonian Institution is comprised of 19 different museums and, although its overall impression is best described as venerable, there is a splashy appeal attached to certain galleries which dazzle visitors with diamonds or ruby slippers or Julia Child’s kitchen; with dinosaurs or rocket ships or pandas. In the surge to see I.M. Pei’s East Building or the stunning Kogod Courtyard, the Hirshhorn Museum can get overshadowed.
I have, at times, “forgotten” about the Hirshhorn, only including it on a personal tour at the last minute when a child in my party asks about the doughnut-shaped structure. Strangely for me, in spite of its spacecraft appearance, instead of pulling my attention away from the traditional Smithsonian buildings that surround it, I find that the cement-colored museum fades into the background. But, when someone like a curious child points it out, you are amazed that you could miss it: the architecture really makes a statement.
A 1989 review in the Washington Post had this to say: "[The Hirshhorn is] the biggest piece of abstract art in town---a huge, hollowed cylinder raised on four massive piers, in absolute command of its walled compound on the Mall.... The circular fountain...is a grand concoction...that for good reason has become the museum's visual trademark." (Benjamin Forgey, The Washington Post, November 4, 1989.) I do love the contrast between its tiered outdoor Sculpture Garden emphasizing the pleasure of rectangular spaces and its curved gallery walls, designed explicitly to hold the modern and contemporary works collected by Joseph Hirshhorn throughout his life.
Every time I go, I am reminded of the pleasure of wandering through this drum-shaped building. Walking the circular hallways becomes part of the artistic experience and it is never as crowded on a summer afternoon as the museum where the Hope Diamond sits. You can watch an edgy film in the Black Box theatre or scratch your head over some of the more untraditional works. (I was doing just that when a friendly docent stopped over with thoughts and explanations of a work which allowed me to unfurrow my brow and savor something that challenged my idea of what constitutes art.)
The museum does a great job with programming. There are Friday Gallery Talks, Meet the Artist lectures, After Hours events with music, and inventive workshops for teens. The collection offers Picasso, Matisse, Rodin, Calder, Moore, Hopper and many others, but focuses on art created in the last 50 years. A destination this bold and forward-thinking should not be overlooked. Move it to the top of your Mall destinations!