Off the Tracks

OMG, They're not cobblestones!

February 9, 2012

Exciting times on P Street as the tracks and cobblestones are being repositioned on the finished roadbed.   But wait – as it turns out, they’re not cobblestones at all, but setts.

Setts?  In the 17th century, river stones used as ballast in ships were dumped in ports upon arrival, and ended up being used to create roads.  These river stones, or cobblestones, varied in shapes and sizes and had been smoothed by the flow of water.

Cobblestones on Prince Street in old town Alexandria may have been ballast on a ship from England in the 1700s (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Cobblestones on Prince Street in old town Alexandria may have been ballast on a ship from England in the 1700s

The cobblestones were set in sand and had the advantage of being permeable paving - of flexing rather than cracking with extreme weather and movements in the ground.  But because of the excessive noise of horse’s hooves and carriage wheels on the irregular stones (and the rough ride!), builders switched to granite setts, sometimes referred to as Belgian block.

Alley off 34th street in Georgetown, combining cobblestones and setts (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Talylor) Alley off 34th street in Georgetown, combining cobblestones and setts

A sett is a quarried rock, usually cut into the shape of a brick. Sett paving is believed to have originated centuries ago with the Romans, who used the specially shaped rocks for road paving, and called the quarried stones ‘sanpietrini,' or little stones of St. Peter‘s.

Setts, Belgian Blocks and in Scotland – cassies or nidgers  (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Setts, Belgian Blocks and in Scotland – cassies or nidgers

In most historic cities in Europe, South America and Mexico, granite block has been used for centuries.  Laying setts is not an art that has been revived in these cities, but one that has been ongoing for hundreds of years.

Prague, April 2011 (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Prague, April 2011

Moscow, October 2011.  Working next to the Bolshoi (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Moscow, October 2011. Working next to the Bolshoi

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

Georgetown 2012 – Ramiro Batista (above) and supervisor Abel Pereira.  Having moved from Portugal 26 years ago, Abel Pereira is from a family of stone paving experts.  Abel learned the craft from his grandfather and father, and his brother is currently working on a similar project in Braga, Northern Portugal.


Click here to share your thoughts.


Replacing water pipes in the West Village

January 16, 2012

Frustrations are rising on the P and O streets corridors in the West Village as heavy construction continues, sometimes all night.  “The night shift ends before daybreak and the day shift picks up where they stopped,” one bleary eyed resident said.  “There’s no getting away from it.”

alternative view 33rd and O (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) alternative view 33rd and O

While the roads are being reconstructed, the water mains are also being replaced, some having been in place for 100 years.  The old pipes vary in material, from terra cotta to galvanized iron to steel, some with lead fittings around the old joints.  Some are 12 inch, some are smaller ,and all are being replaced by new pipes.

12 inch water mains, old and new (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) 12 inch water mains, old and new

“It will be worth it to have it done right – the old gas lines were dangerous, and have you seen the insides of the water pipes that are being replaced?” Florence Auld of O street asks.  “And the roads are going to look fantastic.  We just need to be patient and know it will be over soon, with great results.”

She crosses the road, stepping carefully between the mud and holes next to the old track bed, shouting good morning to her neighbor above the din of the jackhammer across the street.

interior look at old water main (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) interior look at old water main

another view of old water main (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) another view of old water main

 


Click here to share your thoughts.


My heroes of the week

December 13, 2011

Last week I had an appointment at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital on M Street.  Afterwards, I found I was missing my wallet.  I called the vet’s office and asked them to take a look.  “I paid with a credit card, – could you look at the counter? It has to be there somewhere, I’ve searched the house and car…”

“Not here that I can see, but I’ll call you if I find it,” the vet tech, Bridget, said.

I retraced my steps - found nothing - and decided to call again.

“Bridget, I was parked outside on M street and to the left three spots.  Could you possibly take a look?  I’ve looked again and can’t find it.  It is an orange leather zippered pouch with money, credit cards – you know, my life”.

She told me she was on the phone with a client and had others waiting, but would look as soon as she could.

“I’ll call you back,” she said.

Ten minutes later she called back, breathless.  She said she walked to the parking place and searched in the gutter and on the sidewalk.  On her way back she looked up to see a young man sitting on the steps of the animal hospital, going through my orange zippered wallet.

“You found my wallet!”, she exclaimed.

The young man looked up.

“Bitch, this ain’t your wallet,” he said with my license in his hand.  “Get lost.”

“OK, it isn’t my wallet.  But I know whose it is,” she said.  “Didn’t you see me looking for it?”

“Get lost,” he said.  His friend was leaning against the steps to the animal hospital.   

“I’m calling the police,” Bridget said calmly.

“The one with the wallet threw it on the street and they both ran”, Bridget told me.  “Your cards were scattered all over M Street, but I picked up everything I could find.”

“Can you tell me which ones are there?” I asked, not believing she had actually recovered some of the cards. 

She listed a variety of colors of personal and business Visas and AMEX cards, a bank card.  She kept going.  “Your license, insurance card, looks like some checks, a building key card? Some business cards and more cards – Costco?” she read out to me.  “And more.  Lots here.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I told her I’d be right down, and arrived a few minutes later.

She met me on the steps on her way out to pick up some lunch. 


“Here it is!” she said as she handed it over.  All the cash was gone as was the fistful of change, mostly Canadian.  But what I had been given was the time that would have been spent canceling cards, getting a new license, calling the bank, closing accounts - I had what I thought was everything in the slimmed down wallet.

“They came back,” Bridget said.  “Looking all over for the credit cards.  Nat (the other vet tech) went outside and leaned on the stairs to ‘have a smoke’.  They left abruptly.”

I told Bridget I would love to give her a reward, but had no cash at the moment – but had cards!  What would you and Nat like for lunch?  We drove down M and stopped for a large pizza, drove back to the animal hospital and then I went on to work.

Georgetown Veterinary Hospital – not only an excellent animal hospital, but they go above and beyond for the owners as well.  My heroes of the week!

 

Georgetown Veterinary Hospital - 2916 M Street (202) 333-2140


Click here to share your thoughts.