A New Yorker finds a welcoming home amid alien landscape of the District

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By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 25, 2009

Clutching a list of Craigslist contacts and one referral through a friend of my sister-in-law, I arrived in Washington in December of 2007 from New York City to search for temporary housing before starting as interim music critic at The Post. Not knowing Washington at all, I had planned out an unrealistic itinerary based on the idea that it would take only a couple of minutes to get to places that seemed on the map to be only a few blocks apart.

My heart rose at the sight of front gardens along the streets around Eastern Market, but sank as I entered a soulless apartment building with sagging floors and chipped paint. I wanted to find the Cliffs Notes access to the soul of Washington, and be magically led to a real neighborhood where I would want to live. Instead, all I came across as I walked from Capitol Hill to Logan Circle to Foggy Bottom were tiny, dormlike apartments on busy thoroughfares: housing that seemed all too temporary.

Drained and battle-fatigued from trudging for hours through cold, dingy streets, I boarded a bus to Georgetown for yet another appointment. After meandering for what seemed like miles through narrow roads, until I was concerned I had gone off the map entirely, the bus finally deposited me onto Wisconsin Avenue.

And into another world.

Greenery, and wreaths, and Christmas lights hung from lampposts along a street lined with charming rowhouses and low shops. The smell of hot cider wafted along the brick sidewalks. The doors of the shops were open and offering plates of cookies and hot drinks to passersby, whose talk and laughter produced puffs of white breath in the cold air. The chocolate chip cookie I took from one platter was warm and melting and delicious. After a morning of feeling very much alone, I had been transported into an American translation of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," and all I wanted was to be part of the story.

I got my wish, too, because compared with all the awful studios I'd seen, the house my sister-in-law's friend had conjured up for me seemed like Cinderella's palace. Although my sublet in Georgetown has long since ended, I'll never forget the year my holiday present was a new neighborhood and the start of a wonderful new adventure.

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