NoMa: An Emerging Neighborhood

Like so many other DC neighborhoods, the existence of a busy metro stop is key to NoMa's urban resurgence and gentrification.
Like so many other DC neighborhoods, the existence of a busy metro stop is key to NoMa’s urban resurgence and gentrification.
NoMa's construction facelift is bringing a whole slew of trendy new condos to the area.
NoMa’s construction facelift is bringing a whole slew of trendy new condos to the area.
Walking east under the NoMa underpass is like walking into another world where urban renewal has yet to reach the community.
Walking east under the NoMa underpass is like walking into another world where urban renewal has yet to reach the community.
NoMa's well built and clearly marked bicycle paths are the best in the District of Columbia.
NoMa’s well built and clearly marked bicycle paths are the best in the District of Columbia.
Mint, an excellent Indian-Pakistani restaurant next to the sleek Marriott Courtyard hotel, is one of the reasons to visit NoMa.
Mint, an excellent Indian-Pakistani restaurant next to the sleek Marriott Courtyard hotel, is one of the reasons to visit NoMa.
NoMa's proximity to the popular Union Market scene makes it an incredible location for those looking to getting in early into a great neighborhood.
NoMa’s proximity to the popular Union Market scene make it an incredible find for hipsters in search of the next great neighborhood.

Ever heard of NoMa?  Don’t blame you, as most people wonder whether the acronym stands for some sort of medical condition.  But if there’s a neighborhood that is on its way up (and I mean way up), it is NoMa, or what is otherwise known to non-hipsters as North of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC.  The neighborhood is still work in progress, but with its spacious metro stop (NoMa-Gallaudet Station) and proximity to Union Market (the hottest market in town), the area will no doubt have a great future as a place to live and work.  Three significant employers are smack in the middle of the neighborhood: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), National Public Radio (NPR), and the DC facilities of SiriusXM Radio.  Add to this a public wi-fi network, clean streets, and a whole slew of small, affordable restaurants, and you can’t help but be impressed with this up-and-coming neighborhood.  It won’t remain undiscovered for long.

There Are Still Some Artisans Left

In a world consumed by mass production, it is always reassuring to encounter an artisan at work.
In a world consumed by mass production, it is always reassuring to encounter an artisan at work.

I never thought that the lonely, cutting sound of a small chisel would cause such a great impression on me.  After all, this is something we don’t hear or see every day.  A cold chisel being driven by gentle, patient hands into a granite wall with the methodical rhythm of someone who’s intent has more to do with achieving perfection than with worrying about time.  As I watched this artist work the stone I couldn’t help but think that this is the same level of patience and precision that goes into the making of top-end Leica cameras (which just happens to be what I used to take this photo).  For some people this is boring stuff, and no doubt watching an artisan’s slow, methodical work interspersed with numerous periods of silent observation is not everyone’s cup of tea.  For others, it is like watching a chess match by Grand Masters, where the long, tense silence is suddenly disrupted by a stroke of genius involving the subtle move of a chess piece to an adjacent square on the board.  Beauty lives in the very simplicity of the act.

The Bureaucrat’s Lunch

While the power lunch is alive and well, not all Washington bureaucrats get to enjoy it on a regular basis.
While the power lunch is alive and well, not all Washington bureaucrats get to enjoy it on a regular basis.

While most people around the country imagine the glamour of working at a big city like Washington, for many of the local bureaucrats the magic seems to have faded a little.  Not that the so-called power lunch is a thing of the past, but rather that the road to the inner circle appears to require some time on a bench like the one depicted on the photo above.  But in a city where who you know is more important than what you know, the distance from that bench to a table with a white table cloth and expensive silverware could indeed be a short one.  Better keep those eyes open and that suit pressed just in case.

Imagining A Photo Before You Take It

For those who consider life as a journey, each step along the way will always be in between things.
If life is indeed a journey, each step along the way will always fall between where we have been and where we are headed.

What can I say, sometimes the unexpected turn leads you down the path of the unexpected photograph.  Such was the case with this particular photo, which required me to stand in the middle a busy downtown street in order to get the best composition possible for the shot.  Of course, this would not have been necessary if I were using other than a Leica rangefinder, but in the world of rangefinders zooming with your feet is all you’ve got if you want to get closer to your subject.  Not that this whole movement was done in a hurry, mind you, as when I first took my position in the middle of the street there was no one between the tires.  However, I was convinced that sometime before I got run over by a speeding DC bureaucrat, someone will walk right into the scene and make the shot I was imagining in my head possible.  Perhaps there’s something to George Lucas’ famous quote: “You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.”  I’m certainly not going to argue with that.

The Charming Secret Garden Cafe

Simple elegance is the best way of describing The Secret Garden Cafe in the community of Accoquan.
Simple elegance is the best way of describing The Secret Garden Cafe in the community of Accoquan.
Bright and spacious, the Cafe is where you are going to find many of the locals socializing at lunchtime.
Bright and spacious, the Cafe is where you are going to find many of the locals socializing at lunchtime.
The simple lunch fare at The Secret Fountain Cafe includes some creative takes on traditional sandwiches.
The simple lunch fare at The Secret Fountain Cafe includes some creative takes on traditional sandwiches.
When the weather is good, the garden, multi-layered patio dining area is the place to hang out.
When the weather is good, the garden, multi-layered patio dining area is the place to hang out.

Once in a while you come across a restaurant where all the elements seem to click.  I’m not referring to some drain-the-bank-account type of place, mind you, but rather to a restaurant that seems to seamlessly combine those little things like good service, elegance, and basic good food with a little flair.  One such place is the Secret Garden Cafe in Accoquan, Virginia.  Not that I knew about this place before today, or that I would have found it without my good friend Mark suggesting I check the place out (the entrance is down a short alleyway and the restaurant is at the back of a local business).  What I discovered at the end of that short alleyway was one of the most quaint and charming places I’ve seen in a long time.  The white-linen tablecloths and the soft, pastel colors inside set the tone for the type of clientele that is always looking for that little extra in a place.  And when you consider that you can have a two-course lunch with enough freshly squeezed lemonade to kill a horse for less than $20, the place becomes even more attractive, specially for someone used to DC restaurant prices.  Next time I’m in Accoquan, I know exactly where I’m going for lunch.

Spring Is Finally Here

You can barely tell that a couple of weeks ago temperatures were at the freezing level and it was snowing in the Mid-Atlantic region.
You can barely tell that a couple of weeks ago temperatures were at the freezing level and it was snowing in the Mid-Atlantic region.

What a difference a couple of weeks make.  As April started in the Mid-Atlantic region, freezing temperatures and a couple of inches of snow would have led you to believe that winter would never end.  Instead of birds singing in the morning all you could hear was the unmistakable raspy sound of ice scrapers chiseling away windshields before the dreaded morning commute to work got started.  Gladly, all that appears to be behind us now and those dreaded ice scrappers have been put away for good.  This coming week should also be the peak bloom period for the famous cherry trees lining the Tidal Basin in DC.  The annual Cherry Blossom Festival is in full force and the weather could not be more perfect.  Time to get out and see the world waking up from its long, winter slumber.  See you out there.

OK, I’ve Had Enough Of Winter

The long, cold winter in the Washington, DC area has taken its toll on the local food truck industry.
The long, cold winter in the Washington, DC area has taken its toll on the local food truck industry.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that we’ve had enough of this winter.  Not that the DC Metro area can compare with the likes of Norway or Hokkaido, but rather that we are just not used to this long, wintry seasons any more.  Sure, they show up every three or four years, but this lack of consistency is not enough for anyone to justify those big winter purchases, if you know what I mean.  Proof of this is the fact that a single inch of snow is enough to close all area schools and the Federal government (do they still get paid if they stay home?).  Small businesses are affected as well when area customers gravitate to shopping malls and large retailers in order to stay warm while overcoming cabin fever syndrome.  So, if by any chance Pope Francis happens to be reading this blog (I know, a long shot, but I’m going to take it anyway), I would like to ask him to do a little lobbying above his pay grade to see if this endless winter can finally be put to rest.  And just in case, a million thank-you’s in advance.

Winter Calm

A serene atmosphere sets in by the river banks during cold, winter days when the crowds disappear won't dare to venture outside.
A serene atmosphere sets in by the river banks during cold, winter days when crowds disappear and life seems to slow down to a crawl.

Something good always happens in our national capital region when a snow storms forces most of the government to shut down for a few days.  For starters, the entire region’s stress level comes down a notch or two.  Bureaucrats get to enjoy a paid day off courtesy of the taxpayers and the environment gets a bit cleaner thanks to tens of thousands of commuters staying home for the day.  What’s more, a sort of calm sets into the area with the falling snow, giving people a chance to reconnect with themselves and the place where they live.  It may not be quite enough for advocates of the Slow Movement to label Washington, DC as a Slow City, but it’s nice to experience for a day or two what all that slow stuff is all about.  I’m digging it.

Getting To The Other Side: A Potomac River Crossing

One of the most fun and less discovered adventures in Northern Virginia is crossing the Potomac River on a harbor boat.
One of the most fun and less discovered adventures in Northern Virginia is crossing the Potomac River via water taxi.
The water taxi connecting Old Town Alexandria with the new National Harbor development arrives at the Alexandria dock.
The water taxi connecting Old Town Alexandria with the new National Harbor development arrives at the Alexandria dock.
While not the cheapest way to cross the Potomac River, the experience makes the sixteen dollar roundtrip a real bargain.
While not the cheapest way to cross the Potomac River, the experience makes the sixteen dollar roundtrip ticket a real bargain.
Coastal and maritime traditions are maintained by the city of Alexandria in spite of pressures by local developers to alter the sleepy nature of the place.
Coastal and maritime traditions are maintained by the city of Alexandria in spite of pressures excerpted by local developers.
During the winter off-season months you could pretty much have the entire water taxi to yourself, even if you are not interested in the views.
During the winter off-season months you could pretty much have the entire water taxi to yourself, even if you are not interested in the views.
As in larger vessels, the boat Captain sits majestically over water taxi with the best views in the house.
As in larger vessels, the boat Captain sits majestically over water taxi with the best views in the house.

Funny how sometimes we convince ourselves that traveling always involve getting into a jet and flying to some exotic, faraway place.  Sure, that’s a lot of fun, but the more I think of it, the more I’m beginning to realize that distance may not have as much to do with the “travel experience” as I once thought it did.  Sometimes the experience can be a lot closer to home.  You know, the places we usually see from a few thousand feet above ground when taking off from the local airport to our great, once-a-year adventure.  Those places do look quite fascinating from the air, but like so many of them we see in aerial photographs, they tend to remain abstractions in our lives.  They are things we momentarily glance at on our way to destinations.

Well, yesterday I decided to change all that.  On what turned out to be a rare, beautiful mid-December day in northern Virginia, I ventured out to cross the Potomac River by water taxi.  Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it?  But I can guarantee you that it was, and the reason may have had as much to do with the absence of crowds as with the incredible views that are only possible from a river boat.  Bald eagles, bridges, historic shorelines, and the soothing sound of a river boat gently slicing the river waters.  It was a surreal experience magnified by the fact that it was so out of character (in a good way) with the crazy, busy world that exist in the area a mere mile inside the river shores.  The ride, which connects Old Town Alexandria on the Virginia side with the National Harbor complex on the Maryland side, lasts less than half an hour each way and will set you back $16 for a roundtrip ticket.  Would it be cheaper and faster to just zoom down by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in your private automobile?  Sure, provided the destination is all that matters to you on any given day.  But if it’s the journey you are after, then that slow, undulating ride across the river will definitely do the trick.  And the view of the cluttered, busy highway above the bridge is quite nice too.

Street Photography In Krakow, Poland

The busy streets of Krakow are a street photographer dream.  Leica M 240, APO Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.
The busy streets of Krakow are a street photographer dream. Leica M 240, APO Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.
While smoking in public has diminished in Europe, plenty of people still light up like in the old days.  Leica M 240, Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM.
While smoking in public has diminished in Europe, plenty of people still light up like in the old days. Leica M 240, Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM.
Pilgrims from all over Poland descend on Krakow during their annual pilgrimage.  Leica M 240, Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM.
Pilgrims from all over Poland descend on Krakow during their annual pilgrimage. Leica M 240, Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM.
The sidewalk restaurant scene in Krakow is one of the liveliest I have ever seen anywhere in Europe.  Leica M 240, Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM.
The sidewalk restaurant scene in Krakow is one of the liveliest I have ever seen anywhere in Europe. Leica M 240, Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM.
Like in Saint Mark's Square in Venice, pigeons compete with people at Krakow's Market Square.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Like in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, pigeons compete with people at Krakow’s Market Square. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

Thought I’d share with you some street scenes from Krakow, Poland.  For a street photographer, Krakow’s Old Town is about as close to heaven as you can get.  During the summer months its streets are filled with people at all hours of the day.  And while a great number of them are no doubt tourists, locals are also up-and-about in great numbers.  No doubt the extensive pedestrian-only zones have something to do with this, as well as the feeling of relief from the long Polish winters.  But they are out there, and to see thousands of people at sidewalk cafes and restaurants past 10:00 PM at night, is quite impressive.  The crowds are also quite photo-friendly, or put another way, they don’t scold you for taking a photo as they do in other parts of the world, which is kind of nice.  And yes, I did try to give these photographs a somewhat older-looking feeling by applying a few filters during post-processing, but I hope that didn’t detract too much from the scenes.

Idling

Have you ever considered adding some idle time to your lifestyle.  Leica M 240, APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.
Have you ever considered adding some idle time to your lifestyle. Leica M 240, APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.
Even happy hour time is shrinking these days as a result of our busy lives.  Leica M 240, APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.
Even happy hour time is shrinking these days as a result of our busy lives. Leica M 240, APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH.

Do you idle?  That is, do you ever have those moments in your daily life when your time is not filled with activity?  In an attempt to see if folks out there were into this idling thing, I went out with my camera recently to find out.  My goal was to find something akin to the contemplative lifestyle out there, if at all possible.  Now, I do realize that “idling” as an adjective kind of implies an activity in of itself, but the kind of scene I had in mind had more to do with exactly the opposite: the absence of activity.  So armed with the “not spent or filled with activity” dictionary definition, out I went at the end of the day when people were supposed to be done with work for the day.

The result?  I couldn’t find anyone really idling, as per the dictionary’s definition.  The folks in the photographs were the closest I could find, and as you can see, cell phone technology pretty much did away with all that idling witchcraft.  In fact, this technology has redefined this whole idea of “relaxing.”  Ever heard anyone say, “I find this whole idea of relaxing too stressful?”  I have, and the more I think of it, the more I’m beginning to convince myself that there’s something to that statement.  Otherwise, how could I explain that after a whole day of work I was out “relaxing” with my camera.  Are we doomed?  I hope not.  After all, one’s got to have something to look forward to.

I Can Explain

With few customers venturing out in the heat, Hooter girls had plenty of time on their hands.  Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
With few customers venturing out in the heat, Hooter girls had plenty of time on their hands. Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

Yes, it is Hooters.  But obvious reasons were not why I was there.  Rather, and much to my regret, I ventured out with my camera this morning on a scorching and humid 90-plus degree day to see who else was out and about.  As it turns out, not too many people, or at least not too many sane people.  It was hot, very hot, and as you can see, servers seemed to have a lot of time on their hands as a result of lack of customers.  But heat or no heat, there is always something worth photographing.  The action today, though, was mostly inside.  The art galleries and museums were packed with visitors trying to cool down while trying to figure out who Diaghilev was (I only know this because I was one of them).  After a couple of hours out in the sun, I had had enough.  Back to the metro and back to home base with only a few keepers in hand.  A total wash?  Almost.  Hooters might have saved the day after all.