East vs. West: waterwise

I’ll start my premier post with one of the food-oriented observations that has been bubbling up in my brain since we moved to the DC area from north of Seattle (to be specific, from Anacortes to Alexandria).

Though I lived over an hour outside of Seattle, I spent enough time there to draw some cursory observations. And I would say the same for my time thus far in the Capitol.

One of the prime tourist attractions in Seattle is the Pike Place Market and its fish-throwing frenzy. Why? Because it’s on the water and that’s what you do when you live in or visit Seattle. You eat salmon, oysters, clams, you name it, right out of that big pond called the Puget Sound. Now I’m in DC, waltzing around Georgetown on a sunny Mother’s Day and I stumble upon water. I wasn’t sure what body of water it was, but it was meandering through those rows of row houses rather unnoticed by the many passersby. (I later learned it is the C&O Canal, which most DC-ers experience via bicycle on the popular trail by the same name.)

The setting of a canal through buildings reminded me of the San Antonio Riverwalk, where settlers built first commerce then tourism around a waterway (with inspirations via Venice) that was once the source of wretched flooding. In comparison with the bustling Texas waterway, this stretch of water in Georgetown was just there, almost hiding. There were no restaurants nestled up to it with cozy outdoor tables; the many high-end shops were situated further up the block, not near the water.

I’m fascinated by how cities come to be as they are today, and the topic is even more intriguing when one moves east and discovers just how old parts of this country can be. In Seattle, the city is a giant salute to its waterfront. That’s partly because the Puget Sound’s livelihood has always come from the water (mostly in the form of food and transportation), and partly because there’s so much water falling from the sky ’round there, it’s hard to think about much else.

I’m sure parts of DC embrace abutting waterways (my dog and I walk the boardwalk in Alexandria, for example), but it’s just not the same. People just don’t seem as OBSESSED with the water here. As a result, they aren’t as obsessed with water quality or with local seafood — which, other than crabs, I’m told barely exists. The Washington Post‘s health & science section today had this story about the risks of swimming in the Potomac (not to mention eating from it): “A river runs through D.C., but stay clear.”

That river and the Chesapeake are prime for stories, and some of the best ones might be in comparison to other watery regions of the country. I’m getting used to the area’s seemingly distant relationship to the water, but I’ll do my best to get closer. For now, I’ll settle for local crab cakes and a trail that runs alongside the Potomac.

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