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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thing 115, Revisited: Hillwood Estate Movies and Picnic

The Hillwood Estate One in Ten old movie evening resumed again last Friday, this time showing one of my absolute favorites: How To Marry A Millionaire. Everything I remembered about Hillwood outdoor movies was true: lush lawn, gorgeous grounds, fabulous movies and elaborate picnic setups.

This year, Kate and I brought our A games, after setting up a pretty pathetic picnic last year. This year, after some pretty intensive planning, I think we did pretty well:

A crisp white cloth, assorted crudites and dips, homemade pita, homemade shortbread cookies, sparkling wine. Even candles, china and real silverware. The judges were impressed. Wouldn't you be?
But not only was our spread a looker, but so were we! We were inspired by Marilyn and Lauren and their fabulous outfits and tried to snag our own millionaires.

And for our trouble, we got an honorable mention! Our prize was a goody bag with some Hillwood-themed items, and two free passes to tour the house and grounds! So we will be back to spend some quality time immersed in Marjorie Merriweather Post's impeccable taste and largesse.

Thanks Hillwood!

(If you're hot to buy some of those silver interlocking containers, they're called tiffins and you can find them here.)

One year ago: Squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese in tomato sauce from Oyamel.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thing 157: The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

"This fossilized snake in the marble is over 400 million years old -- sorry if there are any Creationists on the tour," our guide, Claude told us. Which seemed like a kind of a weird thing to say, because on a tour of a monastery, at the foot of a statue of Mary, Mother of God, it seems safe to say there will be one or two Creationists around. Does the Pope know there's a 400 million year old fossil in this church? And if so, what does he make of it, exactly?

That was but one of many of the bizarro moments from my tour of the Franciscan Monastery. You may recall that I only recently learned that this place existed when I toured Brookland earlier this month. I was so taken with the place that I immediately set up a return trip, complete with picnic, to spend some more time on the grounds and have a chance to tour the church and catacombs.

We had a picnic of a half dozen people, and we ended up setting up across the street, in a large patch of shady grass, so as not to disturb the people that might be there for more sacred purposes. On Sundays, there are tours of the church at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, and I hopped on the 3pm tour.

The church is stunning -- gold leaf and stained glass and marble, an elaborate enameled covering over the dais, ornate statues and wood carvings. It reminded me of when I was traveling in Prague by myself, just sort of trapsing through the city and ducking my head into random churches, when I poke into one of them and everything was shiny and golden and elaborate. The unexpectedness of the beauty of this church, tucked away in Northeast DC, is really awesome (as in, inspiring awe).

Our tour guide, Claude, swept into the waiting area and abruptly began the tour. Short and rather stout, with a short, greying beard, Claude was dressed like a British Colonial guard in India circa 1880, head to toe in white with a red sash. He was very knowledgeable and good natured, but quite abrupt, and had the straight-ahead, rehearsed mannerism of someone who has given this tour, many, many times.

He took us through the church, explaining that this is a replica of a the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre in the Holy Land, complete with replica tomb and replica...catacombs. That's right, the catacombs I was so looking forward to were...fakes. Basically, we went underground, through a dark tunnel with indentations that, if these really were catacombs, would have had dead bodies in them.

After the tour, I spent some time in the rose garden and walking through the cloisters, taking in the bright and shiny mosaics of scenes from Jesus' life. Everything was blooming and the grounds were bathed in sunshine. It was a really pleasant afternoon, and if you haven't visited yet, I really encourage you too. But don't expect any real catacombs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top 10 DC Things To Do This Summer 2009

By now, I'm sure you've heard the news and if not, let me be the first to tell you: Screen on the Green is back, baby! The outdoor movies will screen in their usual spot every Monday from July 20 - August 1o, starting with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The truth? I've known for awhile; and since it's no secret what my #1 summer activity is year after year, I've been holding my Top Ten list until it was made official.

So, without further ado...the DC365 Top Ten Things To Do This Summer in DC, 2009 edition!

10. Hillwood Estate outdoor movies: There were only two of these wonderful events scheduled for this year, and there's only one left, so what are you waiting for? Get your ticket! A nice, lush lawn, candelabra, cake stands, quality movies, wall-to-wall gays and free bug spray. Trust me, you want this.

9. Go on a bike ride: My bike tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk inspired me -- there are tons of trails in the area to get your cycle on and enjoy the summer sun. If you have a bike, consider joining the Washington Area Bicycle Association. If you don't have a bike, fork over the $40 and join Smartbikes for a year. I'm a member, and I'm a big fan. You can take a bike from any of the eight current docking stations and return it to any docking station within three hours. And, the program got $3 million in stimulus money to expand, so there will even more stations in the coming year.

8. Mr. Yogato: When you're sweating and salty, the very best thing for that is a cup of original tangy with fresh blueberries and strawberries. If you're really salty and sweaty, you can attempt the 30-day challenge: eat at Yogato every day for 30 days and you get a flavor named after you! If you prefer variety, you can also check out tangysweet, Larry's Homemade, Dolcezza and Pitango.

7. Pick Peaches: The Boyfriend and I had a blast picking apples at Stribling Orchard, and this year we plan to go back out to the country to pick as many peaches as we can load into our bags. You can pick peaches at Stribling, or you can join Farmfoody, which is like Facebook for farmers, to get bulletins on whose peaches are ripe and when. A summer full of peach cobbler, peach ice cream, and peach pie? Yes, please.

6. Cantina Marina: This bar is like Spring Break, all summer long. Right on the water, open and breezy, and with copious frozen margaritas at your disposal, you'll think you're back in college in Cancun. It is a great place to while away a lazy afternoon in the sunshine and summer breeze. Beware, on Nats game days and Friday and Saturday nights it can be quite crowded. If you're looking for an alternate roof deck or patio, check out the Helix Hotel bar, Marvin or the Beacon Martini Sky Bar.

5. A Nationals Game: I know the Nats suck, but come on -- sitting in the sunshine with an $7 Miller Lite, a Ben's Chili dog and some peanuts, watching the Nats lose? Doesn't get much better than that.

4. Wolftrap: I do love the Wolftrap, with it's lawn seating and liberal alcohol policy. Check out their schedule for upcoming acts. Why did this beloved summertime activity drop to #4 this year? With all the rain we've been having, the risks are high that you'll be stuck on the lawn in the middle of a downpour, which is not fun at all.

3. The Uptown: Harry Potter VI comes out this summer, and you will find me in line at the Uptown. This is still the best venue to see the the loud and flashy summer action movies with it's enormous screen and old timey balcony (!) seating. The Uptown is full of memories and experiences, I can sum it up better than I did when it was Thing 49.

2. Go on a picnic: I'm really trying to expand my picnic repertoire this year, and I always welcome more suggestions. Although the cherry blossoms are gone, the Tidal Basin and Haines Point remain excellent picnic locations, but there is also Malcolm X Park, the Franciscan Monastery, Gravelly Point, Poplar Point, Pierce Mill, Logan Circle, and on and on. Bring a cooler filled with cold, refreshing beverages, some dips in a tiffin, and kek with a chole in it, and you've got yourself a perfect summer afternoon.

1. Screen on The Green: See you for some box wine, dancing and sweating at Close Encounters of the Third Kind!! And many thanks to the saviours of this event: HBO, Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall!

Want more ideas? Check out my 2008 Top Ten list and my 2007 Top Five.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thing 156: Artomatic

When I was a sophomore in college, I met a local boy who was an artist and into graphic novels. We kinda liked each other and he asked me out on a date. He came to pick me up from Foggy Bottom, and I asked him where we were going. "The waterfront," he replied. "We're going to see an art show."

Looking back, my narrow knowledge of DC at the time was downright shameful, but I was so confused when we got on the Metro to go to the Georgetown waterfront, and even more confused when we transferred to the green line. When we emerged, there didn't appear to be any water in sight, only a Safeway, a parking lot, and a rather large, abandoned-looking office building.

You've guessed it -- the waterfront was of course the Southwest waterfront, and the art show was Artomatic. It all felt very glamorous and exciting to be in an exotic part of the city and seeing an alternative, indy art show that sure had some weird stuff. Sadly, the boy and I never made it to date two, and I barely stepped foot in Southwest after that.

It took eight years for Artomatic to come back to the waterfront, and it took me that long to pay it a return visit. On Saturday, I strolled down the waterfront, now the home of the stadium and a neighborhood I frequent (the Boyfriend has lived in the littlest quadrant nearly a year), to a shiny new office building that has been taken over for the month of June by all manner of artists and performers.

If you haven't yet been to Artomatic, I'm not sure what you're waiting for. I guarantee: You will find something in this art show that you love, if only because of the sheer magnitude of works of art available to see. The show is nine full floors, of which we only made it through three, and as it was we saw gorgeous, thought-provoking, silly, ugly, weird, scary and peaceful works. Sculpture, oil, watercolor, installation, tin foil, greeting card, photography and marshmallow pieces. You will find something you cannot live without, and something you'd wish you'd never seen, before you leave.

I am primarily attracted to photography, and really loved Tony DeFilippo's photos of the District, as well as Jim Darling's portraits and stories in his 100 Strangers project. I also love abstract art with bright colors and repeating patterns, and was completely drawn in by Joel Church's pieces. I enjoyed Ginny Kinsey's block prints, with their messy outlines and unique point of view, and I still don't know what to make of Bunny Noir, but I really enjoyed it.

And that was from one third of the entire thing -- before my brain shut off and my stomach started growling. Think of all the fabulous things I've missed in the other six floors! And the live performances that happen through the day, each day!

Artomatic continues through July 5. Don't make the mistake I did by waiting eight years between visits.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thing 155: The Notorious Scandals of Dupont Circle

The final tour I took over WalkingTown DC weekend was the Notorious Scandals of Dupont Circle tour. I was not the only person to have this idea. Over 200 people showed up for this tour which was...too many. Although the tour was still fun, it lost a good deal of its charm by virtue of having to do battle with other people in order to get close enough to hear our guide. Even with that obstacle though, I learned the following things:
  • In the late 1910s, an anarchist attempted to blow up a member of the Cabinet by strapping explosives to his body and then ringing the doorbell. Unfortunately, on his way up to the house to ring the door bell, the young man tripped on the sidewalk and blew himself up -- and what a powerful explosion it was! Paul, our guide, read us the newspaper account, which was mighty gruesome, including that the man's spinal column flew across the street, broke an upstairs window, and landed by the bed of a student trying to take a nap!
  • The Hope Diamond belonged to a woman who lived in Dupont Circle (the house that is now the Indonesian embassy, in fact) -- her family was so rich that seemed to have just bought it on a lark, and there are pictures of her swimming in it, and accounts that she would attach it to her dog's collar before taking him out for a stroll.

  • And speaking of diamonds, that lady from the Titanic movie? Rose? Based on a DC resident. She was way ahead of her time, writing and lecturing on how women should be their own people and make their own living. She lived on New Hampshire Avenue, and was coming back from Europe aboard the Titanic. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, she found a lifeboat that was being captained by a very inept male crew member -- she and another woman took it over and steered them towards rescue.

  • DC also has its own "Schindler" who saved a bunch of Jews during the war, but didn't get a movie made about him so isn't as famous. And of course, I didn't take notes during this tour, so I am unable to bring his name to light even now. But, if I recall, he saved 60,000 German Jews by getting them US visas in a hurry.

  • We stopped along the block of Q Street between 17th & 18th, right in front of a man's house who was just sitting on his front stoop, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper. Suddenly, 200 people swarm around his house, as our guide announces to us that this block is famous for murder and mayhem. In fact, in front of this particular house, a man was killed with nothing but a slingshot. Nice relaxing Sunday for that home owner, I imagine.

  • DC had its very own slasher -- like Jack the Ripper. This person would break into people's homes, and slash his victims ruthlessly. This went on on and off for six years until he was finally apprehended. How could this go on so long? His victims were sofas, and other pieces of furniture, and so he was pretty low on the police's priority list.

  • Dupont Circle originally had a statue of Admiral Dupont in the center of it -- just as Logan or Thomas or Scott circles have statues of Logan or Thomas or Scott. Except apparently, Admiral Dupont was a pretty terrible admiral. His statue was mocked when it stood in the circle, and eventually, his family took it down and moved it to the family estate, and commissioned the now-beloved fountain to stand in its place.

Our tour was led by Paul Williams of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, who literally wrote the book on Dupont Circle. He was as surprised as the rest of us by the sheer turnout for the tour, but stayed in good spirits and projected his voice just as much as he could. And he clearly took delight in all the scandals and murder that he told us about, as did the 200 of us listening, and the odd homeowner who might have learned a little something new about his home that day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thing 154: Walking Tour of Brookland

Continuing with my recap of WalkingTown DC free walking tour weekend, I got off at the Brookland/CUA metro stop for a walking tour through the Brookland neighborhood. This was the second time getting off at that metro stop in the entire ten years I've lived here, and the first time was to go to a craft fair at Catholic University. So I was really going into this tour without any idea of what I might learn or see or find.

What I found is a highly residential, very diverse, suburban feeling neighborhood, with a mix of houses going back to the early 1900s up to modern architecture. Our guide, Ed, had lived in the neighborhood for seventeen years and was proud to show us the homes of any resident, past or president, who had even a tenuous claim to fame.

We started out tour by seeing the original Brooks mansion, which lent Brookland its name once the property was divided and sold. In the 1840s, the Queen family had built their daughter and her new husband, Mr. Brooks, a mansion on a hill, sitting on a hundred or so acres. In the 1880s, the land was partitioned and sold. Because it was not sold to a developer but rather sold as individual lots, there's no uniform look to the neighborhood -- everyone built whatever kind of house they wanted to. In addition, because the lots were sold individually, it was a more hospitable neighborhood for African Americans, and the neighborhood has a rich history of prominent African Americans as residents.

The neighborhood also has a rich Catholic history. Not only is Catholic University right across the train tracks, but there are numerous Catholic schools and churches in the neighborhood. In addition, there is a Franciscan monastery up the hill that is truly stunning.

Ed led us up the hill (past a park that used to be a Civil Was fort, but now apparently has really excellent sledding terrain in the winter) and once we'd entered the monastery, gave us ten minutes to explore on our own. The monastery is completely breathtaking.

Inside city limits, tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is a huge monastery, with a gorgeous rose garden, fountains, cloisters lined with vibrant mosaics, and the "Ave Maria" in every language of the world. That's all I had a chance to see in ten minutes, but I already have plans to go back and spend an afternoon there, so I will report back shortly on what else there is there. Ed said there were catacombs, which I'm looking forward to. But the fraction that I did see completely blew me away, and made the trip out to Brookland well worth it.

I do have a major remaining question about Brookland -- aside from frolicking through the monastery and gardening in your enormous corner lot, what is there to do there? We passed through their commercial strip, but it looked mostly like chains or takeout counters. What am I missing? If you have a favorite bar, restaurant, museum or activity in Brookland, leave it in the comments. I am intrigued by the neighborhood, but not sure what else might be there.

Two years ago: The smoky goodness that is Rocklands BBQ.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thing 153: Walking Tour of Historic Logan Circle

I live in Logan Circle. I shop there, I eat there, I've worked there -- in other words, it's my home base. Which is why I'm so embarrassed that I knew virtually nothing of the history of the neighborhood! Did you know that General Logan started Memorial Day? Or that Logan Circle was originally called Iowa Circle? And that the Iowa Circle neighborhood was called "Hell's Bottom" in the late 1800s because it was that bad? Or that Mary McLeod Bethune used to live in the neighborhood? Next to a museum for confederate soldiers?

I learned so much on this tour.
We started the tour in Logan Circle itself, with our tour guide Tim, a small and good-humored man with the faintest of mohawks. He started by explaining to us how Iowa Circle fit into L'Enfant's grand plan for the capital, as one of the points of a triangle between Logan Circle, Dupont Circle and the White House. The circle was planned to be residential, and is now the only remaining purely residential circle in the whole city.

Almost from the get go, Iowa Circle was not a great neighborhood (hence the Hell's Bottom nickname), but then in 1968 it was pretty much burned to ground or otherwise destroyed in the riots following MLK Jr's assassination. After that, it's been on a slow but steady rebuild, that was greatly accelerated once Whole Foods opened up on P Street.

We walked from Logan Circle to Naylor Court, to learn a bit about residential alley life after the Civil War, and then contrasted that by looking at the SoLo Piazza building at the corner of 13th & N, as an example of the newer architecture in the neighborhood.

We learned that the Washington Plaza Hotel was designed by the same man who designed the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami (and now that he mentioned it, I do see a strong resemblance), and across the street we learned about the rival Lutheran churches, as well as the history of the N Street Village.
Perhaps most interesting was just up the street from there, where the Mary McLeod Bethune House has been converted into a historic museum that gives tours! (It's on the list now, so keep an eye out for an upcoming Thing.) Apparently, when Mary McLeod Bethune was in DC, she lived in my neighborhood, out of the top floors of house on Vermont Ave, and on the bottom floor were the meeting places of the National Council of Negro Women. Then someone else on the tour group piped in that the enormous house two doors down from Mary McLeod Bethune's had been a rest home for Confederate veterans, and then was converted into a museum of Confederate history, which flew the Confederate flag! They must have made for uneasy neighbors.

We went down to the retail heart of Logan, P Street between 14th & 15th, where we got a peak at the original Shepard Fairey Obama portrait, and then stopped on 14th Street to talk about the Studio Theater, and the old Automobile Row of the 1950s. Have you ever wondered why so many buildings along 14th Street (like Posto, for example) have those enormous, open, first floors? They were automobile showrooms in the 1950s, and the buildings have all been deemed historic buildings since then, so they can't be redeveloped into less awkward spaces.

The tour ended back in Logan Circle, with the career of General Logan himself. General Logan was a staunch anti-abolitionist, until his experience fighting alongside black Union troops changed his mind and he became a strong advocate for civil rights. After the war, he was elected the Senator for Illinois, and had a townhouse actually on Iowa Circle, which would later be named for him. When he was re-elected to the Senate, several thousand black DC residents gathered in the circle to congratulate him, and he invited every single one of them into his home so he could have the honor of shaking their hand. Apparently, it took well into the night.

This is a brief (well, I tried to keep it brief) overview of the tour -- if you're interested in learning more about the neighborhood, I highly recommend taking the tour when WalkingTown DC comes back around next fall, or get in touch with the Logan Circle Community Association.

Coming up, I tour Brookland, and am way impressed by a neighborhood I knew nothing about!

Related: Bike tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk, Before There Was Harlem..., and North by Northwest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Thing 152: Bike Tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk

If any of you out there are following my Twitter feed, you'll know I spent pretty much my entire weekend on one tour or another. Yes, it was the semiannual WalkingTown DC, which gives locals and tourists alike the opportunity to participate in over a hundred free walking and bike tours. This event is held in the spring and in the fall, and organized by Cultural Tourism DC, and I urge all of you to take advantage of this opportunity!

I started my WalkingTown weekend at 9am on Saturday morning at the entrance to the Southwest fish market, bike in tow. I was there for the bike tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk, along with about twenty other early birds. This tour is put on by the DC Department of Transportation (or DDoT, or "d.") and was actually led by the head of DDoT, Gabe Klein. Allow me a moment to geek out, but how cool is that? If you read this website, you'll remember that Gabe Klein was a bold and progressive choice for the job, having come off of a four year stint as regional VP of ZipCar, and as an advocate for transportation that might not necessarily begin and end with the personal car. And now here he was, in bike shorts and bright yellow biking shirt, ready to give the twenty of us his own guided tour of the Anacostia waterfront.

After giving us an introduction and an overview of the plan to rebuild the Southwest Waterfront area, we cycled in a pack down to the Titanic Memorial, and then east to the Nats Stadium. At the stadium, Klein, with help from three other DDoT employees, talked about the transportation issues surrounding the building of the stadium, and also the colossal engineering project that was the lowering of the South Capitol Street Bridge.

We continued on to the new USDoT, which stands next to the Navy Yard, and they spoke about the grand plan to connect the stadium all the way through the Navy Yard and beyond with new bike trails, hopefully easing some of the commuting congestion for the 20,000 expected new federal workers in the area. Klein mentioned that he's also looking at remaking the bridges, adding extra bus lines down M Street, and hopefully extending the upcoming street car system into the area, along with encouraging mixed-used developments so that people can live, work and play all within walking distance.

After this stop, I get a little hazy, geographically speaking, on where we went next. I know that we rode along a trail that took us next to a boat house where there were crew races:

And then over some railroad tracks and around and behind RFK Stadium, to what I think was Benning Road, where there was a farmers' market. We took a ten minute pause here to use restrooms and refuel, as needed.

From there, we crossed the Anacostia to its east bank, and then rode for several miles along the river, past a roller skating rink, past playgrounds and picnics and people fishing, seeing the crew races and the Navy Yard and the Stadium from an angle that I've never seen before. We met up again at Poplar Point, where one of the DDoT employees talked about the huge mixed-use development they envision some years into the future, with plenty of park land and new housing, retail and work space, all a few steps from the Anacostia Metro Station.

And from there, we went over the South Capitol Street bridge, and back to the fish market. In all, the ride took three hours, I saw parts of DC I've never seen before (and frankly, I'm not sure I can find again), and got an inside look at the vision behind a lot of the development projects that will shape the future of DC.

From there, I had to zip back home to shower and eat before heading to the next tour...Historic Logan Circle.

Related: Before There Was Harlem and North by Northwest