Friday, October 23, 2009

Blogging Around the States - The District of Columbia

My PhotoI am excited to introduce you to Thomas of Washington D.C.  When I posted my first Blogging Around the States he left a comment reminding me to not leave out the District of Columbia.  I sure would have without his reminder so I thought it only fitting that Thomas should be chosen to represent the District.

You can find Thomas at his blog, My Porch, a place to sit back and visit.  He can also be found on Bad Chart! where he points out the flaws in charts posted in the New York Times.  I like this idea a lot.  As a science teacher I was quite often taken back with the way charts could and were manipulated. even in the area of science, to subtly distort data in support of an erroneous conclusion.  Thomas and a few friend contribute to a blog called Opensewer with brief commentaries on politics.

Thomas recently returned from a trip to Europe, visiting the Netherlands.  I want him to send me the complete itinerary so I can see all the beautiful, enchanting places he talks about in his recent posts.  Places like Piet Oudolf's Garden, a person and place I've never heard of but now would like to know more about.   Each of these pictures can be seen bigger along with several others on Thomas' blog.  He shares pictures of his time in Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp.  I hope there will be more from this trip.  I love traveling and when I can't do it myself, I'm quite thrilled to share the fun other's have experienced in their travels.  

And now for my questions and Thomas' answers about himself and his area of the U.S.

Start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

I have loved reading since since I was a kid growing up in a smallish town just outside the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. I used to practically live at the public library and even ended up working there in high school. Since finishing college in 1992 (History at the University of Minnesota), I have lived in London, Washington DC (the first time), Honolulu (for a graduate degree), back to Minnesota, then to Ithaca, New York (for a second graduate degree) and then back to DC in 2002 where I live with my partner John whom I met soon after I moved back.

I started blogging in 2006 because I needed a creative outlet that I wasn’t getting in my work life. From the start I wrote bits and pieces about books and reading, but in the last six months or so I have focused more and more on bookish things. Part of my inspiration has been the great community of book bloggers I have recently discovered.  (Booklogged comment - that is something that all us book bloggers have come to experience, isn't, it?)

Besides books, I love classical music, cooking, and travel (and shhh, don’t tell anyone…television).

What do you love about living in the District of Columbia?  

The vast quantity, and amazing quality, of art available at the city’s many museums is something I love having access to. The National Cathedral is like no other in the US, like a great British cathedral plopped down in DC on St. Alban’s hill. It is a great place to visit. I also love strolling through the beautiful neighborhoods in the fall when the weather is cool and the leaves are turning.

Is there anything you don't like about where you live?


The weather is probably the biggest thing. It is too darn hot and humid too many months of the year. The kind of heat that has you sweating even before the sun comes up. Plus I would prefer colder, whiter winters. The other thing is that Washington can be a little too buttoned up for my taste. Too many lawyers and public policy types who only seem to have work on their minds. Even with all of the great schools in the area, I recently tried to find a creative writing or literature class to take in the evenings and came up with nothing. Kind of indicative of what is, and isn’t, important here. Oh, and the public libraries here are pretty sad.

If job, money, family did not enter the equation would you prefer to live in another state?  Which one?  And why?

Yes, somewhere in the Northeast. My two years at Cornell in upstate New York really got me hooked on small town life. Both John and I would consider places in Bucks County, PA; the Hudson River Valley in New York; the Berkshires in Massachusetts; or somewhere in Connecticut. There is something about the pastoral rural landscapes and the historic quality of the built environment that is very attractive. Plus there are more distinct (dramatic) seasons than in Washington. And frankly, I want to stay on the East coast because of its proximity to Europe.  (Booklogged adds - I love those small northeast towns, too.)

Having said all that, I think northern California and Portland, Oregon are the bees knees and I could be persuaded to move that direction as well.  (Booklogged can't remain quiet because you all know how much I love Oregon!)

If we visited the District of Columbia what cities, sights and/or activities would you recommend we check out see and/or do?  I know that there are many so why don't you tell us about some of your favorite and some lesser known places. 

Well, no visitor should miss the obvious things (the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the Smithsonian), but the official parts of DC can be pretty sterile. To see the real DC, you need to get out into the neighborhoods. Eastern Market near Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, U Street, Adams Morgan, and the residential parts of Georgetown.   (Booklogged chimes in - I missed seeing all those neighborhoods.  I'll need to make another trip!  I did see and love parts of Georgetown.  My brother took us to the most fabulous Argentine restaurant in Georgetown.  Can't remember the name or I'd recommend it to you.)

Large ImageFor art the choices are endless but the National Gallery should not be missed. Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian is a personal favorite. The aforementioned National Cathedral is a must see.  (Booklogged - I'm kicking myself that I didn't go to the National Cathedral.  Another one for my next trip!) 

For those with strong stomachs, the medical museum at Walter Reed Medical Center is truly wild and off the beaten path. Just think of lots of “things” in formaldehyde.

Who are some authors that hail from the District of Columbia?

I have never actually thought about this before. There are plenty of journalists and politicians who have written books who live or have lived in the District. But I tend not to read non-fiction so I don’t pay too much attention to them. However, there are two biggies that come to mind. Edward P. Jones who wrote the The Known World which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a great novel that chronicles the lives freed slaves who actually owned slaves themselves. An interesting book of historical fiction. And then there is Tracy Chevalier who wrote Girl With a Pearl Earring among others. Although she may have grown up here, she doesn’t live here anymore and I don’t think her work reflects her DC roots. But I am no expert on Chevalier so I could be wrong. Incidentally, I was just in The Hague last week and saw the painting Girl With a Pearl Earring in person.

Do you have a favorite book set in the District of Columbia?

I haven’t come across much fiction that takes place in Washington DC, or it might be that the themes of typical Washington fare aren’t necessarily my cup of tea. Too much about politics and such. However, Edward P. Jones who I mentioned in the last question has written two collections of short stories that take place in and around DC and focus on the day-to-day lives of DC residents, the majority of whom are African American and aren’t connected with “official” Washington. As for the more typically DC kind of book, Christopher Buckley has written some hilarious satire about Washington life including The White House Mess and Supreme Courtship the latter being about the President appointing a Judge Judy type character to the Supreme Court. But my favorite novel that takes place in Washington DC is Echo House by Ward Just, a former journalist for the Washington Post. Just has written about 15 novels and writes amazingly well. Echo House focuses on one of the grand homes in the District that serves not only as the home of a family political dynasty but also as a center of power in Washington politics. A really great read.  (Booklogged - thanks for that recommendation, Thomas.  I haven't heard of Echo House before and it sounds really good.)

Thanks so much, Thomas.  It was so fun getting to know you better and I'm so glad you reminded me about the District of Columbia.  Have a great weekend everybody.  I'm off to the book festival in Salt Lake City today.  Candleman and Katie are going with.


Myke Weber said...

Wow! Thomas makes me feel like I hardly saw DC when I was there. Truth is, I hardly did. Only spent one afternoon there.

I'd better be sure to devote more time to my next visit.

Thanks for the fun tips and descriptions!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I love all the pics Thomas submitted with this interview. The eyeglass-wearing sculpture is especially amusing.

Meg @ write meg! said...

I live just outside D.C. myself and loved reading Thomas's answers! National Cathedral is definitely a sight to behold -- I was there a few years back at Christmastime and whoa -- it'll knock you to the floor if you're not careful! As gorgeous as any of the churches I've seen in Europe... and in the nation's backyard :)