Thursday, August 10, 2006

Touristland

We walked around DC yesterday, listening to our friend David explaining the history of every street we crossed. David has been taking the walking tours of DC for a few summers now, and lives downtown, so he knows the history of every building. Some of them were quite surprising. One of the boarded-up townhouses we passed was the home of the fellow who started black history month.

It was nostalgic for me to visit the old neighborhoods that I used to roam as a teenager. DC is a strange city in a lot of ways. It's as economically disparate as possible- within a block you can cross from a neighborhood that looks like Bosnia to a yuppie mecca. Because of the extremely uneven development of the city, it's actually possible to walk down some streets in which nearly every house is boarded up and condemned and have the street end at a shopping district.

Chinatown, where I spent a summer trying to learn how to play mah jong, now looks like Disneyland's 'Main Street USA'. Everything is a chain store and the architecture has been remade to look like 'vintage Americana'. They have left the old Chinese gate over the street, and some of the signs include Chinese lettering, but otherwise it's all GAPs and Fudruckers. On some streets, the only way you can tell it was once Chinatown is by the Chinse animal tiles in the sidewalk. And forget about seeing any Chinese people. It's now part of "Touristland" which knows no boundaries, no traditions, no history, and no ties to reality.

2 comments:

The Pagan Temple said...

I can't remember the name of it, but did you see the oldest mansion in DC? It's in Rock Creek Park, by where they found Chandra Levy's remains.

Rufus said...

I've walked past it many times as a young man. I can't remember the name either. I was usually drunk.