Last fall, I visited the new Whitney and hovered over Mike Kelley’s piece, Educational Complex. He constructed miniatures, entirely from memory, of every place he’d gone to school. They remind me of the various architectural sketches that were part of my own portfolio by the age of 10: a house car, summer forts in the sand dunes of Lewes, and floor plans for never-realized backyard playhouse.
Kelley’s piece also prompted a recall of places that were a bit fuzzy in my own memory: a soccer field I had visited with my family to watch one of my older brother’s games, a retreat center I went to in middle school with my class, and the driveway of a museum in downtown DC that my family visited on a sunny afternoon a couple of decades back in time. The unifier of all three memories: wistful nostalgia.
Two years ago, fresh back in Washington DC and working at the U.S. Department of State, I squinted as I walked past The Octagon House. “Was that the museum we visited as a family summers ago?” I wondered as I replayed a memory of waiting under a porticoed driveway with my siblings and mother, while my dad got the car. “But, where is the driveway?”
I picked up the phone and called my dad. “Dad, didn’t we do a trip to The Octagon House as a family when I was growing up? It looks familiar, but I think they’ve gotten rid of the driveway.” “No,” he’d clarify. “That was the Heurich House Museum. Closer to Dupont Circle.”
I walked a mile up 18th, turned left on M, and right on 20th. And there it was — the porticoed driveway. And a building that was structurally similar to the Octagon House, in the hazy way of distorted memories.
Both buildings are oriented in somewhat the same direction on the southwest corner of an irregularly-shaped piece of property. And both have a prominently featured, rounded architectural element.
The indelible memory of the porticoed driveway reminded me of Places of My Infancy, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s century old rumination on nostalgia. I picked up the copy I purchased three years ago at the now closed Farewell Books in Austin. As I flipped to the back, I stumbled up on a sketch of memory of a place that I am still in search of: the soccer field I’d visited with my family years ago, the playground on top of the hill, and the woods just beyond.