Sunday, September 10, 2006

N. Va.

So we've moved to the burbs, apparently. We live right on the border between Arlington and the town of Falls Church, blessedly close to a metro stop. The neighborhood is called Madison Manor, a name that perfectly describes the cute little collection of modest and rather un-manor-ly little brick houses that comprise it (of course, if you live in an actual manor there's really no need to call it such; at that point you can just name it after a great aunt or a made-up French word). Most houses are small, two-story brick affairs that would look nifty and iconic with an American flag flying in front of them -- a conclusion that a great many residents seem to have come to on their own. On the Suburban Soul-Sucking Scale, you could do a lot, lot worse. For example, the houses don't all look the same, there's a park, tons of tall trees, a great biking path and small patches of forest that contain (according to an informational sign) the ruins of something called Brandymore Castle (!) that dates to pre-Revolutionary times.

Still, coming from Chicago and Hyde Park it is something of an enormous culture shock. At night, it gets fairly dark and really quiet. I can walk to the metro, but have to drive almost anywhere else. I catch myself wondering where are all the currency exchanges, bus stops and bookstores? And why can't I hear any sirens or honking cars? There's parking everywhere -- very strange.

The roads in Virginia are total chaos. A map of Arlington County looks like someone took a perfectly rational city and put it in a blender. 11th Road might cross 11th Street at a funny angle before meandering into 26th Avenue for a block and then changing its name to John Marshall before dead-ending. Oh yeah, and there are no signs to explain any of this. There's a place nearby called Seven Corners, which is exactly what it sounds like. Other names like Bailey's Crossing and Leesburg Pike make you realize that these modern highways mark the same path as muddy, wagon-rutted trails 400 years ago and it's just been that way ever since.

Actually, I haven't explored very much yet. Someone recently told me that Falls Church is "still funky and weird," which sounds encouraging. I don't know much of the history, but I feel like Arlington has historically had a very conservative, anti-DC feel to it, but that it is changing and becoming more liberal (and way more diverse) in recent years. At any rate, many adventures to be had -- it's very exciting to learn the ins and outs and the hidden cool stuff of a new place. And there's always DC if I desperately need my urban fix.

[ PS- Laura Jean points out to me that Brandymore Castle is not really a ruin of a castle, but is actually just a limestone rock outcropping on top of a hill that looks a bit like a castle and so got that name. It was however, a prominent landmark used by surveyors dating to 1724. Link here and scroll down a bit to read the description. It's still a nice little walk up the hill, though... ]

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