The Well-Kept Secret That Is Shaw

Shaw's colorful murals alone are worth a trip to the neighborhood.  Ricoh GR.
Shaw’s colorful murals alone are worth a trip to the neighborhood. Ricoh GR.
The revitalization of this old Washington, DC neighborhood is heavily influenced by the local art scene.  Ricoh GR.
The revitalization of this old Washington, DC neighborhood is heavily influenced by the local art scene. Ricoh GR.
Ethnic restaurants are a big part of what makes the Shaw neighborhood a good food destination.  Ricoh GR.
Ethnic restaurants are a big part of what makes the Shaw neighborhood a good food destination. Ricoh GR.
Every neighborhood needs a popular watering hole for the locals and Shaw's Tavern takes care of those special needs.  Ricoh GR.
Every neighborhood needs a popular watering hole for the locals and Shaw’s Tavern takes care of those special needs. Ricoh GR.
A wall is not just a wall at Shaw, but rather a reflection of the local character.  Ricoh GR.
A wall is not just a wall at Shaw, but rather a reflection of the local character. Ricoh GR.
Shaw's library is a fantastic example of modern architecture blending with the neighborhood's historical buildings.  Ricoh GR.
Shaw’s library is a fantastic example of modern architecture blending with the neighborhood’s historical buildings. Ricoh GR.

Ever heard of the Shaw neighborhood in Washington, DC?  Can’t blame you if you haven’t.  Most locals haven’t either.  And judging from my recent visit to Shaw, it doesn’t look like it’s one of the tourism hubs in Washington, DC either.  But if you think this somewhat low-keyed anonymity means that you should ignore this part of town, you will be sadly mistaken.  This wonderful neighborhood is home to Howard University and the incredibly popular Art All Night DC  event, which takes place at the imposing building that was once home to the Wonder Bread Factory on S Street NW.  And if the “Big Easy” label were not already taken, it would fit Shaw like a glove.  Laid back, friendly, and not totally gentrified, Shaw is one of those places that once you visit, you’ll be asking yourself why you had never been there before.  Not that the neighborhood can match its richer and more famous U Street neighbor a few blocks away, but rather that if it were noise and rowdy crowds I was intent in getting away from, then Shaw is the place I would head on out to.  This is specially the case starting next month when the Right Proper Brewing Company opens its doors at T Street NW.

Memento Park, Budapest, Hungary

The communists were quite fond of large-scale sculptures.  Ricoh GR.
The communists were quite fond of large-scale sculptures, now relegated to the non-descript Memento Park. Ricoh GR.
At the entrance of Memento Park, Lenin still keeps his eyes over the masses that are no longer there.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
At the entrance of Memento Park, Lenin still keeps his eyes over the masses that are no longer there. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Very few figures glorifying the communist struggle remain, but those still standing are not exactly high art.  Ricoh GR.
Very few figures glorifying the communist struggle remain, but those still standing are not exactly the epitome of high art. Ricoh GR.
Just in case you didn't know where you were, the communist Red Star is planted at the center of Memento Park.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Just in case you didn’t know where you were, the communist Red Star is planted at the center of Memento Park. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

This is a post that I was not planning on writing, but someone asked me to post a few photographs from my trip to that great relic of the communist era in Hungary, the infamous Memento Park, so here it goes.  For starters, getting to Memento Park is quite an adventure.  You’ll hear that it is in Budapest, but it will take you a few bus transfers before you actually get to its remote location next to a dusty concrete factory of sorts.  Your first reaction after being unceremoniously dumped at the small bus stop is confusion as to where exactly you have landed in Hungary.  That’s because the bus stop is a few hundred yards from the park, and the somewhat industrial feeling of the place (even though there are houses around) is kind of disorienting.  Only after spotting what seems like the top of a brick wall over some concrete-dusted trees behind you and across the street, do you realize that you’ve found the place.

The Hungarian people could not have done a better job in hiding all these relics, and the world could not have done a better job at ignoring them.  While a mere 45 minutes away Budapest is a beehive of activity and excitement, the dusty Memento Park sits alone, desolate, and forgotten.  Sure, a few curious souls do manage to trek there out of curiosity, but this communist resting place doesn’t appear to rank very high on most visitors’ to-do lists (on the day four of us visited, there was only one couple there taking pictures).  When you think about it, though, Memento Park with its sun-drenched, sterile landscape and grotesque statues, is perhaps the right memorial for a failed ideology that enslaved millions of people a short generation ago.  It is a graveyard of sorts–the last resting place of the symbols of coercion and subjugation by a political system long relegated to the ashes of history.  That the people of Hungary endured and survived such historical catastrophe with such a positive attitude towards the future, is nothing short of remarkable.  What surprises me is that Memento Park exists at all.  Maybe the Hungarian people need a point of reference by which to measure how far they have come since those dreaded communist days.  Whatever the case, this park is part of a Hungary that no longer exists.  Today’s Hungary is enjoying itself by the Danube with its eyes firmly gazing at an Europe that not too long ago seemed like a far-away mirage.  It is remarkable how times change.