In the heart of the city a secret beach bubbles with fun.
In the heart of the city a secret beach bubbles with fun.

Finally, on the brink of Labor Day, summer’s traditional finale, I made it to The BEACH.

Here’s what it didn’t have: sand, saltwater, the scent of sun screen.

Nonetheless, if you closed your eyes and listened only to the happy shrieks of children and the delighted chatter of adults above the curiously sea-like murmur of the balls, you could imagine yourself at another beach, perhaps one where you dare not close your eyes because, you know, it’s been a good year for sharks.

It's a surreal place to unwind.
It’s a surreal place to unwind.

The BEACH opened on the Fourth of July at the National Building Museum as part of its Summer Block Party program. The interactive architectural installation created by Snarkitecture provides a beach-like experience you can fit in on your lunch hour if you work downtown.

I knew I wanted to experience this from the moment I read about it. But the sands of summer slip through the hourglass faster than fireworks fade from the night sky.

I finally took the plunge yesterday. The buzz of excitement in the Great Hall exactly mimics the blithe soundtrack of a sunny beach scene. The 10,000 square-foot space is contained inside a white wall, high enough to provide a sense of enclosure, but open to the lofty reaches of the museum, which allows beams of sunlight to shaft down on the beach umbrellas.

The BEACH is a state of mind.
The BEACH is a state of mind.

Yes. There are beach umbrellas, and a “shore.” There’s a snack bar and a pier of sorts. But mostly there are people of all ages frolicking in the “surf.”

Some people just have to make a splash.
Some people just have to make a splash.

You could describe it as a plain vanilla ball pit. But it’s a million balls.

And this is part of the brilliance of the design. The way the translucent white slightly squishy balls reflect the light suggest the brightness of the beach. And it’s this brightness that lends a kind of surreal serenity to the scene.

The BEACH balls never get more than three and a half feet deep, and diving is forbidden, but children and adults alike can’t seem to resist the urge to submerge. Or you can just lounge in a beach chair and let the big ball spin.

The BEACH closes on September 7th. If you’re looking for something inside a box but outside the ordinary, don’t miss it.

Canal Cachet

Ways and means.
Ways and means.

At this time of the year, when Earth’s tilt adjusts the planetary mood lighting, we sometimes feel the urge to hit the reset button, to attempt a bold fresh start on another calendar.

Others of us may yield to the snooze button. Whatever. There’s no right or wrong in this process. There is only winter: cold, wet and gray, tormenting us with dreams of gentler climes and fruity drinks under beach umbrellas.

However, those of us who can’t get away from winter’s worst make the most of what we have right here, right now. And if we don’t like it, we’ll reinvent it! Reinvention is a beloved American invention. Take what the game gives you, add a twist of lime and a dash of chili pepper, fry it with love and watch the lines form.

Here in D.C., a city which, by American standards, has a lot of history, the chances are that anywhere you plant your foot was once trod upon by someone famous or infamous. Some of these places have been lovingly preserved with all their dignity and charm intact. Others have been allowed to languish and/or rot. It takes money and will to resist entropy. But sometimes an injection of good old brass-knuckled entrepreneurism can breath new life – or at least tourists – into areas overlooked for decades.

Such an area is the Chesapeake and Ohio canal below Georgetown. From 1831 to 1924 the original C&O canal provided an important route for barges laden with Pennsylvania coal. But the frequent flooding from the Potomac River eventually took its toll and as railroads took over the coal trade the canal languished.

While several high profile politicians, notably Supreme Court Justice William Douglas in 1954 and President Eisenhower in 1961, helped to bring public attention and funds to preserve the canal, the area below Georgetown remained under the renovation radar until recently.

A painless canal route.
A painless canal route.

These days the pedestrian bridges across the canal swarm with bikers, joggers, and cupcake-eating tourists. The old brick warehouses that still line much of this portion of the canal have been remodeled into condos, trendy restaurants and event spaces. Only traces remain of the area’s funky roots, where the old flour mill once flourished along with the Bayou, the legendary local music club.

Evolution isn’t only a matter of blood and bone. It’s a process in brick and concrete too.

The C&O canal slips past the old and the new, quietly reflecting the changes, as we reflect on our own.