Culture Shocked

It costs 20 bucks and a change in perspective to learn what you never knew you never knew about NoVA.

It costs 20 bucks and a change in perspective to learn what you never knew you never knew about NoVA. 

By Susan Anspach, with reporting by Johannes P.  •  Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Northern Virginia, who are we to say what constitutes “authority”? Does living in a place 20 years make you a figure of “authority” on that place? Does subscribing to its media outlets make you one? What about writing for those outlets?

No, no, and no, I say. In matters of Northern Virginia and columns about Northern Virginia, I’m the first to take a backseat, to open my arms wide to differences and variations of interpretation. If someone else has got something to say, I want to do what I can to pull him up a chair, or an audience.

That being said, welcome, Johannes P. of Georgia! My byline is your byline. My column is your column, in that I’ll be sharing it with you this month.

To clarify, Johannes P. from Georgia is from the republic of Georgia, not the state. He wrote in response to my Elance ad for a column, where I specifically stated an interest in “outside perspectives,” although to be fair, here’s what it read in full:

“Request 1,000-word lifestyle article on Northern Virginia region. No outside sources or citation required. No time spent in Northern Virginia required. Am interested in outside perspectives.”

Here’s Johannes’s reply, with running commentary in bold so we can follow along together.

“My name is Johannes P. (Ahoy!) and I know quite a bit about West Virginia. (Close! That is a place so close to the place I want an article on.) As an Orthodox Christian, I can also add a unique highlight about West Virginia, a hidden treasure which is located in Mayfield, West Virginia. (We’re clear this is not a column on West Virginia, yes?) I can incorporate that with other things to see and do, as well as about the fine people in West Virginia. (There’s that slip again.) It’s a beautiful state. (No doubt! Although also still the wrong state. Technically.) If accepted, Your ([sic]) contract will be at the top of my to-do list. (That’s impressive, Johannes, and I mean it. Also your English is a bar-none, considering; I couldn’t sneeze in Georgian, much less make a writing pitch. All right, you’ve just about sold me, although I’ve yet to hear from any other contractors. If only there were a way to push it over the top while overlooking that weird bit you snuck in before about religion!)

“I’ll do it for $20. (Bingo.)”

Upfront I’ll have you know Johannes pulled through. Not only did he get me the column early, but he submitted 3,000 words in place of the requested 1,000 (tragically, we don’t have space for them all, but I’ll excerpt the highlights below). It bummed me out a little to reflect on a comparison of work ethic in America, but then the column I paid someone else to write for me showed up and I felt pretty good again.

J.P.’s column is titled “Two States yet One Name,” which made me want to enroll him in the third grade and go to his holiday pageants there. Here we go.

“Many of you have probably heard of both Virginia and West Virginia. (I’ve heard it told, yes.) You probably also know that they are two states but both have one name, so the question is why they are two states, one in the west wedged between Kentucky and Ohio and he ([sic]) other large and touched by the nation’s capital? (If not ‘the’ question, a fair one. And I like your flair for maps. Go on.)

“Though both Virginia and West Virginia are the same (watch it), the split came during the Civil War. Originally, both states were part of the original 13 colonies. The British colony of Virginia was named after the Indian name of an Algonquin tribal chief, Weroance. (Oof. Fact-checking aside, I think there’s an AP style rule to avoid America’s ‘murkier’ historical episodes, like the Indians. Also the word ‘Indian,’ for reader comfort.)”

“In the small town of Mayfield, West Virginia, nestled in the mountains is a monastery called the Holy Cross Hermitage. (Neat, so we’re still on that West Virginia kick. Why’s that?) Though the monastery’s brotherhood mainly consists of American converts to Russian Orthodox Christianity (there it is), it is also the seat of a bishop, who is Russian (theeeere it is). The monastic community has added to the state’s rich cultural fabric by bringing Orthodox liturgical chant from the Russian, Greek, and Georgian schools sung in English. (There was a lot more about Orthodox Christianity that came after this. A lot. Let’s skip ahead.)”

“Harpers Ferry is one of West Virginia’s main towns and has seen most of the action in the Civil War. (Hey, the Civil War! A surefire memory-zapper for anyone still stuck on the pesky fact we’re out of bounds of our coverage area. Remember, Civil War = good. ‘Indians’ = bad.) This quaint little town is also home to the John Brown Wax Museum. John Brown was a strong opponent of slavery during the Civil War period. His own personal experience with slavery from childhood was not a pleasant one, as he watched one of his slave playmates being brutally whipped. (This has taken a turn. What Civil War stuff have you got that’s not about slaves?)”

“John Brown is known for starting the Great Kansas Massacre, where he killed slave-owning farmers in Kansas … John Brown also led the fight for the antislavery people … The John Brown Wax Museum depicts John Brown’s life, including his execution by hanging. (Johannes, you scamp! MOVING ON.)”

“As mentioned before, Virginia and West Virginia were one until the Civil War. (Virginia at last! Three cheers for the home state; I am right, J.P.?) Virginia was a Confederate state whereas most West Virginians were against slavery and joined the Union and broke from Virginia. (Oh.) Many Virginians did own slaves up to the time slavery was illegal in the U.S. (Have I done something to offend, Johannes? Have I besmirched your name, publically decried your mother? And by the by, could I trouble you to name us a single regional attraction before we wrap this up?)”

“For all you potheads and junkies out there, Arlington has the thing. (I besmirch you, Johannes. I decry your mother.) The DEA Museum portrays the entire history of drug use in the United States, great to visit by both drug fiends and crime enthusiasts alike. Exhibits include before and after images of meth mouth … [T]he museum also features a model crack house and how it destroys innocent children. (This is my mistake, clearly; I should have specified! A single attraction other than ‘after images of meth mouth’ and our state’s own ‘model crack house,’ please.)”

“Going to visit Fairfax and like guns? Well, you’ve come to the right place and you must see the National Rifle Museum. The National Rifle Museum shows the whole history of the marriage (there’s a strong word) of Americans and firearms. The museum features all different types of guns and what they are used for. You can also see a larger-than-life statue of Carleton ([sic]) Heston, who has been the director of the NRA for a long time. (Charlton Heston was the president of the NRA not a day past April 2003. Plus he’s dead. Final thoughts?)”

“Virginia, especially Northern Virginia, has many different attractions, and the people are fun and friendly. (You’re playing to my vanity now, but at least we’re not back on slaves.) Both Virginia and West Virginia may now be two different states, but you can sense the colonial flavor in both and you can see how they were one state and one people at one time. (Anyone else awash with relief to be lumped back in with West Virginia, land of churches and justice? Thanks for your insight, Johannes. I’ll be taking the front seat from here.)”

@CitySprawlNVMag spends time on Twitter, but not TOO much time. She spends the exact right amount of time there. Who’s asking?


(February 2013)