Before I Go on Staycation…

June 21, 2012, Washington, DC: I’m planning to take a little staycation. I’m not going anywhere and I’ll most certainly be back — just taking a brief hiatus from regular blog posts to reflect on this year’s project and collect my thoughts concerning what happens next. New ideas are keeping me up at night and I couldn’t be more excited. I look forward to sharing them with you soon.

Before I go, I invite you to participate here on Neighborhood Nomad. Your stories about why you love where you live are intriguing and inspiring. They reinforce the power of place and they remind us of the extent to which our geography shapes us. Collecting and producing reader interviews has been one of the best parts of this effort so far, and every single one of you has distinctive stories to tell about the rhythms of your home, your neighborhood, your town or your city. Shoot me a note. Tell me more about your hometown.

More to come! As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Miles From One Year Ago…

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

June 19, 2012, Washington, DC: In June 2011, I embarked on a year-long project that would bring me back to each of my hometowns to learn more about the places I’d lived. There were many that had shaped me — from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco and New York — and I wanted to get a good feel for their geography, their people, their neighborhoods and their pulses. I also wanted to examine, broadly speaking, why people live where they do and what makes a place feel like home. With ample vacation days, multiple frequent flyer tickets, many tanks of gas, several bicycles, and a few good pairs of walking shoes, I covered extensive ground in twelve months. The project, Neighborhood Nomad, is documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.

The study came full circle this weekend, ending up where it started on a Virginia vineyard. And so with the advent of summer comes an opportunity to revisit the year I spent traveling back to my former neighborhoods. I’ve come miles from one year ago, and I’ve logged all of them in hopes of better understanding the places we called home.

Read on for a chronological overview of this year’s travels back home…

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One Year, Ten Photos

“It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?'”
-Lawrence Durrell

June 15, 2012, Washington, DC: The first entry on this blog is dated June 16, 2011. 365 days ago. In reality, the launch of this year-long project is a little softer than that — the idea had been stewing for months, but was birthed in its current structure just as we kicked off our wedding weekend. The first several entries were scribbled down in a blue plastic notebook bought in a Santorini drugstore on our honeymoon before they went live in the blogosphere.

This weekend, in other words, is a first anniversary celebration in more ways than one.

To mark the milestone, the next few posts will reflect on what’s happened here during the course of the year – beginning with a roundup of ten of my favorite photos that emerged from Neighborhood Nomad: One Year of Travel Through My Many Hometowns. I’ve loved having an excuse this year to lug around my fancy camera, test out new photography apps on the iPhone, and document my surroundings through various lenses. Read more to see a handful of the photos that have made an impression…

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Map of Mornings: The Road to Hampton Pool

June 10, 2012, Washington, DC: These are roads I know like the back of my hand. They are the routes we traveled to swim practice and gymnastics and piano lessons and school. Yesterday morning in North Baltimore, I instinctively took shortcuts down side streets and noticed changes in traffic patterns, piecing together a map of so many mornings from my youth. We spent a lot of time in the car growing up in North Baltimore.

Given that it’s summertime, I retrace the best morning drive of all: the one that led straight to Hampton Pool.

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Growing Roots

May 3, 2012, In transit on Amtrak: It’s that time of year again when I vow to learn how to garden. On Sunday, I visited our neighborhood hardware store called Frager’s to pick up my annual supply of soil, plants and seeds. It was a sunny day and the outdoor garden shop was filled with people deliberating over the plants that suited them best and finding the ones they could keep alive. I lugged my selections home and got to work preparing the flower boxes on the back deck like I do every year, reading about the seeds, planting the flowers, convincing myself that this will be the year I’m finally successful in this endeavor. But I can’t begin to pretend I know what I’m doing. I’m not good at this. People say it’s simple, but I find it hard to grow roots.

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The Ballpark as The Catalyst

Photo Credit: Marjorie Childress

April 4, 2012, Washington, DC: I love this photo my friend Marjorie took at what was then Pac Bell Park during a San Francisco Giants game back in 2003. I love how the light hits the grass, casting long shadows onto the field. I love how just out of frame, kayakers paddled behind our seats in the outfield, hoping to pluck a home run ball out of McCovey Cove. In that moment, as the sign there says, there was no place else I could imagine I’d rather be.

But can ballparks evoke that feeling from enough people to help jumpstart a neighborhood? With the Wrigleys and the Fenways wedged tightly into well-established neighborhoods now the rarity, can newer, bigger ballparks in different areas of their cities help revitalize their surroundings? Last night after work, I biked down to Nationals Park, a mile from home, to take a look.

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A Tribute to the Local Movie Theater

Metro Theater, Union St., San Francisco, February 2012

February 25, 2012, Washington, DC: As celebrities prepare to pile into the Kodak Theater for tomorrow night’s Oscars, it seems like a good time to pay tribute to our tiny old neighborhood movie theaters — local joints that kept us close to home, burrowed into a cramped seat surrounded by fantastic ornamental decor, for a Sunday afternoon film. Places like old theaters once anchored their neighborhoods in a small but meaningful way, and too many of them have since closed their doors. I’m rooting for those of them still going strong.

I have a view of one such shuttered movie theater just outside my apartment window. The blue lighted sign still flickers on at sunset, showcasing the old art deco building even though the theater hasn’t shown a film in decades. I’d give anything to walk out my front door, meander around the corner and go to a movie. I imagine someone who lived here years before must have enjoyed such an outing quite often.

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