March 20, 2012
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Click on any photo to see it enlarged. [Temporarily disabled.] It will appear as part of a slide show of all photos on this page. The image size can be changed by clicking on the plus and minus buttons. In the upper-left corner of a slide show click on either of the small-blue triangles to see another album (sets of photos). One of the photo albums is of London and another is about the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan.
South of the Mason-Dixon Line
Having “occupied” our friends in New York and New Jersey for just a bit short of three weeks, on January 23 we took the Boltbus south. It's sort of the ground-based equivalent of low-cost, no-frill airlines. It's been around quite a while but apparently has expanded a lot. It got us there in comfort and there was plenty of room for our bags. An advantage it had, and which buses almost always have over trains, is that baggage loading and unloading involves no steps and no changes of elevation. We arrived so early for our bus, that we ended up on the earlier bus. That was a happy accident because the bus driver was super friendly and we got our favorite seats up front with a clear view of the road. Too bad we hadn't already bought our Nook; there was free wireless on the bus and we could have used it as a cheap GPS navigator. (We saw the Nook demonstrated in a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn and fell in love with it. A week after our arrival in DC we bought one.)
Anybody who read our London and NY-NJ posting knows that we came to the USA to find and buy an apartment. Rather than going directly from France to the USA, we put people over property: first we visited family in Darlington and then friends in London. And even then we didn't go on directly to DC; having been absent from the USA for over four years we stopped where the greatest concentration of our friends is located, the Northern New Jersey – New York City area, and visited with them.
All the time we were temporizing we wondered how our timing would be as regards the property market? Would the low prices continue going down or would we be chasing a home in a rising market? How we managed that and what the outcome was we'll cover on another page, and in depth. Here we'll reveal the ending of the mystery: we aimed, fired, and hit the target. We have bought an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia on the 13th floor of a 15-storey condominium called The Templeton of Alexandria, built in 1974. In other words, as we put it in our December posting, we found what we'd wanted:
It has everything we'd specified, including a very modern kitchen and a big balcony (big enough to have furniture and to eat on). And plenty of room for guests.
Washington, DC, and Surrounds
We started off on our southern “occupation” by enjoying the hospitality of Walter and Karen. When we first met them they were living near the Pentagon in a condo in Crystal City, Viriginia, but got tired of the restrictions of a condo. They had moved into a wonderful Victorian three-story house in DC just blocks from the Maryland line in Friendship Heights. It was wonderful and they extolled the benefits of their neighborhood; we were convinced and weren't: it was right for them but not for us. Now that we've bought a condo we'll see if and after how many years we reach their conclusion.
We liked the basement apartment they gave us but not wanting to overstay any welcome we were happy when we found a sublet that would tide us over until we found our apartment, which we were sure would be soon. A young American-Chilean couple were going off to Chile for a few weeks and made their place available. (It was the third sub-basement for us, counting the Daggett's split-level half-basement that we had.) That gave us several things: In the Mt Pleasant section it was closer in to central DC (at four miles, half as far as Friendship Heights), and another district and history to get to know — and we got to know the almost-yuppie neighborhood well. In fact, it is a great mixture of immigrant Hispanics, with bodegas and other ethnic stores, and a much richer group who are buying turn-of-the-century mansions and restoring them. We were withing easy walking distance of Columbia Heights and often shopped there. Rock Creek Park was close and we walked there as well as to the National Zoo which sits on a slope above the creek.
Getting the basement apartment came at just the right time as we needed to get serious about our book translation. And, of course, we needed time to do our apartment search. During this period we were free of social engagements and were more often by ourselves than we'd been in weeks. We'd take the bus or Metro into central DC almost every day. Some of the time it was to continue on to Alexandria where we'd meet Paul, our real estate agent; initially it was to look at apartments and later to work on the paperwork for the closing. When we were to meet him we'd walk to the Columbia Heights metro or more often catch the bus in Mt Pleasant and ride it to central DC where we'd change to the Metro and take it to the Van Dorn station in Virginia. There Paul would pick us up and we'd be off for donuts and coffee (hot chocolate for Gerry).
Out on the streets of DC we'd sort of pinch ourselves or almost giggle, saying that this was really to be our home. In this joyful mood we walked by the White House, went to the National Gallery, and saw the famous buildings of the mall. We went to the American Enterprise Institute three times for lectures, each of which was to our taste and confirmed to us that DC was where we wanted to be. And a half dozen times we walked past and through McPherson Square, the site of “Occupy DC”. We saw it before the squatters were evicted and after. Like so many reporters whose reports we'd followed, we found the people there to be inarticulate and unfocused.
Just before closing on our Templeton apartment we moved north 25 miles to Clarksville, MD, to spend a week with the Lees, whom we'd met while we were all working on related projects for AT&T Bell Labs/Lucent in the Lucent Holmdel building. That was so long ago: 1995-1997. Since then much water has flown under many bridges. Among the changes are that David and Juniata now have twin four-year-old boys. While with the Lees we got the fun of playing with the boys and the pleasure of meeting David's mother, like David himself born in England, who lives in their basement suite. Their home is in a subdivision that is 10 years old; half the area is still farms. We took a walk almost every day and enjoyed the countryside, although to be honest the local country lane had too much traffic to be comfortable. Unlike we retirees, Juniata and David had to go out to work half of the time we were there so we were on our own a lot.
Part of our deal with the previous owner of our newly purchased Templeton apartment was that she'd have plenty of time to move out. So we had the closing on February 15 rather than later to have it over and done with and no worries that the deal would fall through. We did agree that she could stay there through March 20 — so where to stay for the month until true move-in? It wouldn't be fair to tax any of our friends for a whole month, although we had plenty of offers to stay or return. And we wanted lots of quiet time to be able to concentrate on our translation project.
We searched the web for good deals, considering Boston and Mexico City and the Caribbean and more. But Jan was worried that we'd be too distracted in Boston or Mexico City and not spend enough time translating our giant French book project and didn't want to go so far. Thus when we found the exceptional value we have here as a winter rental in Ocean City, we took it. We've got a small apartment in the Coconut Malorie Resort, about 450 sq ft, with separate living room and bedroom. It looks out on a pleasant bay with sometimes gorgeous sunsets. Because it is so nicely furnished it's a more comfortable place than we had in Florence, even if smaller. It's not so nice as what we had in Rome, but tremendously quieter and more conducive to work and reading.
We got here by renting a car and driving ourselves. That also caused us quite a few giggles. Largely because we got an unexpected upgrade and found ourselves driving an American-size behemoth called a Ford Crown Victoria. It took us both back to the days in 1978 when we drove Gerry's brother Richard's big Ford LTD to get California driver's licenses; then the power brakes almost put our heads through the windshield. It really felt like old times to be out on the open road again. We were blessed with one of those wonderful east-coast winter days when the air is crisp and cold and the sun shines out of a cloudless blue sky. We took our time and moseyed east from Clarksville through Annapolis and on to Rehoboth Beach (ri-HOE-buth) and then south on the Coastal Highway to 59th Street and our Coconut Malorie "home", as it would come to feel. We had to skip a stop in Rehoboth Beach but two weeks later made a day trip and stopped for breakfast there at a wonderful little family-run, Greek-themed, restaurant, that served the best American pancakes.
Ocean City is primarily a summer resort built around its miles-long beach. In 1900 there was a small village in the middle of a long sand bar and life was organized around the fisherman who lived by their muscles and mussels. Tourism grew and now it is a mini-Miami Beach with many 10-15 story apartment-hotels where families come for a week or a month. It primarily serves the DC-Baltimore area but gets custom from north of New Jersey and who knows how far south. In the summer OC (as the locals call it) is a mad house; that's immediately obvious but the locals to whom we have spoken confirm it. Like so many tourist places besides the natural wonder that attracted people in the first case, the very presence of so many people attracted all kinds of things to entertain them, e.g. restaurants, miniature golf, and bars.
But all of that applies to the summer. We're here on a winter rental when the price of a stay is less than ¼ of the summer. It's supply and demand. Ninety percent of the shops are closed and ninety percent of the hotel space is unused. So we have a great deal. We take a walk on the beach every day and see but one or two people. We'd say that traffic moves, but that would be exaggerating how much traffic there is; although there are many signs saying that J-walking is illegal (and would certainly be dangerous in the summer) one could almost do it blindfolded now and survive.
In the sixties, the long sand bar was broken in two by a nor'easter (the 1962 storm) leaving the southern end of the island adrift. As a result development on the break-away part came to a sudden halt and it is now the home of a national park called Assateague Island. We made a trip there on a very cold and windy day. We got to see the "wild" Chincoteague horses; "wild" in quotes because of their close relationship with tourists. We had two nice half-hour walks that were much more rustic than what we experience in Ocean City.
Slogging through the Translation
Our days involve a mixture of reading, Internet, and translating in the morning. After lunch we take a walk, usually on the beach one way and back on the main street the other. Sometimes we take lunch out, but mostly we cook in. Then it is more of the same: translate and read. In the evening the TV comes on; although we aren't too satisfied with it there are two movie channels and plenty of CNN and Fox News to keep us busy. We have missed many, many movies over the years and via Turner Classic Movies we are making headway against the backlog. We get Fox News and through it a lot of reporting and interviewing related to the Republican Presidential primaries. We'd like also to be getting the other side, the PBS Newshour view, but it isn't available. We do, however get that point of view from National Public Radio which we listen to when getting up and when going to bed. A lot of the time one of us is also holding the Nook and playing Sudoku or Spider Solitaire.
Jan's fears about the translation were justified: the work has been harder and more time-consuming than expected because it is not physics; it is philosophy, and there is much jargon that professional philosophers may understand but we don't. We spend a lot of time searching the web for clues as to what various things could mean (e.g. 'moule-élévateur' which literally means a lifting-mold but isn't exactly). That part is actually fun—it's like a giant crossword or an endless Spider Solitaire except that there are deadlines. But we make progress, and as of this writing are 1/2 of the way through the book. We've developed a good relationship with the author, to whom we pose questions from time to time, via email. We'll be over the hump by the time we get to Alexandria but there will still be four or more weeks of work left.
Alexandria Here We Come
Now we await moving into our luxurious new digs. As noted that will be March 21. We're already been searching catalogs and even visiting stores to find everything! That's what we'll need as the apartment will be bare when we take possession. While in Ocean City we bought the bare minimum for a few nights: a few towels and some bedding. Some will have seen pictures of it but have forgotten that the furnishing in the photos are part of the old regime. Through old-reliable Craigslist we have found two different furniture sets that attrack us. We've made appointments to see them so we might just have a proper place to sleep and receive guests before too long.
The date of March 21 has a few resonances: The first day of spring here, the new year or Nowruz in Iran and other parts of the world. The winter has been unusually mild and the famous Washington Cherry trees are already in bloom; We'll go visit our first few days in town and enjoy a walk around the Tidal Basin. The news is that it is hard to find a parking place around them. That won't bother us because we'll probably take public transport.
And it will be exactly 12 years and nine months since we gave up our last permanent residence and became SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe or Wanderers). It was June 21, 1999 that we arrived in Paris to enjoy the longest day of the year in the City of Lights. The chapter as nomads will soon be over and a new life will begin. And that is tomorrow!