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Cranes of the Southwest

Cranes of the Southwest

Crane on the frozen Anacostia January 21, 2009

We lived at the Oakwood temporary apartments near Waterfront Plaza in SW when I was studying Norwegian in 1988.  The area didn’t change much over the next two decades, until a few months ago. Now it is a forest of cranes and new construction is going up all over.  The crane above, BTW, is on the frozen river.

Cranes and new construction on Waterfront Mall near the Metro on January 21, 2009

A lot of the change is related to the new Metro. Development follows the Metro, even if it takes a few years, even in bad neighborhoods.   But the neighborhoods have also improved.   Back in 1988, this area was not so nice. That was the time of the crack epidemic.   During my year in Iraq, I never heard a shot fired in anger.  During my six months in SW in 1988, I heard several.   DC also had that horrible mayor back in 1988. I couldn’t understand how he could get elected and reelected, but his constituency evidently viewed honesty, law & order with less enthusiasm than I did. That Washington is just a bad memory and things are getting better.

Construction at the Arena Stage in SW Washington on January 21, 2009

SW has lots of advantages.  You could see that even in the bad old days. There are lots of parks. The waterfront is pleasant and features restaurants and shops selling the harvests of the Chesapeake and other seafood.   You are within walking distance of the Capitol and the Smithsonian museums, as well as the Library of Congress.   Now that the Green Line connects this neighborhood to the rest of the Washington Metro region, it has everything.  

Below used to be the Oakwood Apartments where we lived in 1988.  Now they are condos.

Former Oakwood Apts on 4th St SW in Washington on January 21, 2009

Places can bring back memories and this place reminds me of Alex and Mariza when they were little.  Alex was born while I was taking Norwegian and we brought him home to the Oakwood.   I remember walking with the kids over to the Waterfront Mall, the one that is now torn down and rising from the rubble.  It was a sad place back then and we didn’t go after dark, but it had a Roy Rogers, Pizza Hut & a Blimpie and it was within walking distance.   We used to walk the kids.   Alex was a happy baby and Mariza was cute.  

Below is just after dawn on the Mall.  I am taking pictures more or less from this same spot to look at the changes of seasons.

Capitol just after dawn looking east from Smithsonian taken on January 21, 2009

I was posted in Brazil when Chrissy got pregnant with Alex.  Mariza was born in Brazil, but Chrissy and Mariza were medivaced to Wisconsin for Alex’s birth.  They left in mid-January because after that time it would not be good for Chrissy to fly.  I had to finish my duties in Porto Alegre and stay until March, when they sent me to Washington for Norwegian training. I had to take annual leave and pay my own way up to Wisconsin (the FS was less into those family rights in those days). I was up there for Alex’s birth, but then had to go back to Washington to finish Norwegian.   Chrissy stayed with her parents and came down a few weeks later with the kids. Mariza was just over 2 years old.  A few weeks is a long time in the life of 2 years old and when I met them at the airport she was a little shy, but then she stood next to me and followed me around.  I remember those times fondly, but it was tough. I don’t think I could learn a language under those conditions today. 

Below shows the tough market.  A couple years ago you couldn't find a rental. 

Rental signs in Washington SW offering two months' free rent taken on January 21, 2009

I developed a system for language learning, not very original or subtle but effective.  I just memorized about ten minutes of useful generic sentences, things like comparisons (on the one hand … on the other hand) or intros (Considering the conditions five years ago …) etc.  When I would walk around or run, I would just repeat the whole story. Over & over.  Language is a physical skill.  You just have to keep saying it out loud until it is driven down into the subconscious. From the basic words and phrases, you can branch out with variations. People think you are crazy talking to yourself, but it works.  For weeks I talked to myself constantly. When I finally passed my Norwegian exam and went silent, I felt strange.  I remember running around Haines Point and noticing how lonely it was with nobody to talk to. 

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