Monday, September 28, 2009

A Week of Nature Porn

I barely watch tv, what with my rabbit-eared ten year-old set in my living room not having the best picture, but even I know about the new Ken Burns documentary series--National Parks: America's Best Idea.

It's astoundingly beautiful and has already made me pull out my USA guide and start planning trips. I highly recommend to start watching if you haven't yet and try your hand at this week's lonely planet National Parks contest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ode to the Charles

Now I know to start inviting folks earlier. Going it alone wasn't so bad though, in fact I loved the community vibe.

Riversing is put on by a local band of merry-makers who also run pub sing-a-longs a few times a year. This is the sixth year they've done Riversing in an attempt to create new traditions and build community. There's an amateur choir, a few professionals, a white-haired, spectacled man in a white tux that leads the whole thing and then a few hundred people that join in song.

Joggers still out of breath from their run. Women with popped collars singing in high sopranos. Older men with raspy baritones. Children holding hands and spinning in circles while they sing. Moms singing to their babies. College students singing, yet trying to be cool. Bikers still with their helmets on, balancing their bikes and reading the lyrics in the program.

We all sang our odes to the River. No need for worshiping any omnipotent God or celebration of any special battle. Just people coming together, thankful that they live in such a place where these kind of things can happen, where there's a river and parkland that people work to conserve and that the summer was good and the autumn has arrived.

In between songs we heard poems about rivers. As one poet spoke the line "a flock of geese flew overhead." a flock of geese appeared in the dimming light and flew overhead, swinging back to settle down on the bank opposite us to watch the show. The crowd oohed. More staged magic occurred as the event closed with us serenading a saxophone who had come on a boat with a giant puppet moon and sun. Circling near the shore, we alternated between our voices, his riff and a low bowing of the cello.

Some photos from the evening:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Leave the Cahr at Home for visiting Southies

Monday of Labor Day weekend was another bike-full day. I pulled out my Walk Boston book and biked the South Boston tour. When you think working class Boston, The Departed, that retahded accent: you're thinking South Boston. Once a not-so-nice neighborhood. It's rising in status considerably as the yuppies who like being close to the center have moved in and renovated homes.

It's also really hilly, so my calves got quite a work-out. First was one of the highest points in Boston: Telegraph Hill. The site of where Washington ordered a cannon to be placed and how we won one of the first battles of the revolution. You can see how close the neighborhood is to downtown from this point, and the water that surrounds the neighborhood. How did they get that cannon up here anyway?

Next stop: Castle Island. Not technically an island anymore and nothing like a castle. Our kind Southie guide gave us a free tour of the fort and all it's history since the Revolutionary War.

The fort has a big park around it . . . with lots of lovely people enjoying the holiday. It reminded me a bit of Montjuic in Barcelona, until I saw these two lovely ladies.

Definitely America. You can see here how the park curves around. Castle Island is now a park and beach with a ring of land around it--perfect for biking of course.

I ended my Southie adventure with a pint at the bar where Good Will Hunting was filmed, chatting it up with a local on a work break about home prices in the area and in Miami.

All in all, a beautiful day, a good workout and an authentic Boston experience.

Many minutes on the Minuteman

Third installment of my labor day weekend now that I'm through with some of the days' labor.

After a late night at the Donkey Show on Friday and a long day looking for whales and checking out the brewery on Cape Ann on Saturday. I was ready for some time alone. I took the T out to Alewife and rode the Minuteman Bikeway out through Arlington, Lexington and to Bedford. The trail is wooded and generally away from civilization, with nice little interludes through downtown Arlington and Lexington. The ride didn't take very long and once I got to Bedford and hit up their little old-timey railroad display I felt like I could go anywhere. I started planning cross-country trips in my head.

Back in real life, I decided to bike as far as Concord, another 5 miles. Concord, the town where Paul Revere rode through warning revolutionaries "The British are coming!" (I have new respect for how far they walked now!) I had an an amazing crab cake sandwich at the Main Street Cafe. A decidedly non-chain bar, coffee shop meeting place, the Main Street Cafe, does not allow cell-phones or laptops (take that Panera's!). I read books at the fabulous local, independent book store and had ice cream at the Bedford Depot. Nothing beats homemade ice cream after a 16 mile ride.

I hopped on the commuter rail back to Cambridge. Apparently, I wasn't the only one with this idea. The front of the car I was in was packed with bikes. I slept all the way back to Porter Square and didn't even get charged. I had another 5 mile ride back home and stopped to run errands along the way.

A lovely day in all. I'm really in love with my bike. It's my gym, my transportation, my meditation. Nothing has been better than bike riding lately, and I know that come first snow-fall in Boston, there'll be a huge a hole in my life.

For now, I'm taking advantage.

A map of my ride.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day Trip to the Cape, Cape Ann that Is

Everyone knows about Cape Cod--Kennedy's, cranberries, beaches. Cape Ann is Cod's northern counterpart. Lesser known, but no less beautiful and interesting.

To be truthful I didn't know much about Cape Ann until I went. I had bought a whale watching coupon for $20 on groupon. Then I got excited after I saw this article in the New York Times on the North Cape.
Labor Day weekend traffic got us off to bit late of a start--no where near as bad as traffic going to Cape Cod though! We had lobster rolls at Morning Glory Cafe over looking the bay and the Man of the Sea statue. (side note: The Man of the Sea overwhelmengly was voted by residents to be the image put on the back on the quarter for Massachusetts, yet was passed over because it was not a National site. It's owned by the city. And beloved by everyone.)

Whale watching is a simple business. You take a boat out and point to whales for your customers. Cape Ann Whale Watch does this fairly well. We saw a lot of beautiful whales. The trip is run by whale scientists who are not great showmen, but have a lot of knowledge. . . And they sell really cheap boxed wine.

Continuing on the booze trail we went next to the Cape Ann Brewing Company. Now this is something I'd love to have in my neighborhood: a homey bar with a brewery in the back. Your choice of seats--rocking chairs, bar stools or long benches. We did the full tasting, which might have impared my first time playing Yahtzee since grandma was alive.
Colleen's Yahtzee was just fine.

Now I'm reading The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky to learn more about this fascinating blue-collar beach town, which is still home to enclaves of immigrant communities from the Portuguese Islands Azorea to the western part of Scillily. It also is one of the last true local fishing ports left in America, which is now being threatened by overfishing. I hope for the sake of the fish, the whales, the folk of Gloucester that we figure it out.

Explore Your Backyard!

I hate the word 'Staycations': the idea that folks don't have the money or time (or imagination) to actually take a real vacation, so they take a few days off and vacation at home.

All these blogs that love the idea of staycations need to get out a bit more.

Websites like Supereco recommend going to the library, investigating a local farmer's market and trying a new restaurant. I'm of the mind that you should be doing all these things already. If you need a staycation to check books out of the library, shop at a farmer's market and try a restaurant then something is wrong. Even I work 60 hour weeks and manage to fit these things in.

Home and Garden magazine recommends planning a tv night or gardening. I wonder what these writers do when they go on vacations. Consumer Reports gets a little more edgy recommending train rides and going to museums. Again, one should do these things in normal life.

So this labor day weekend I refuse to label my activities as a 'Staycation.' What I had was a series of backyard adventures.

Friday's adventure started out with a picnic after work in front of the Harvard libaray. We wildly brown bagged a few bottles of wine and snacked on some cheeses. I got a few giggles from students when I recycled the bottles at the library when we were done.

As usual I found a coupon code for our entertainment for the night: (hint: the code is MANIA) Donkey Show. Regularly priced tickets at $28 were just $14 for us. And before you freak, it's not that kind of donkey show, well, not really. Donkey Show is Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream set to disco in a disco. The show happens all around you and with you. Glittery, scantilly clad, gay boys dance around and bring you into the action. The characters are wildly dressed in spandex and roller skates or orange polyester suits and afros. After the show we stuck around and danced for another hour. I forgot how fun silly 70's music could be.

That guy behind him is just an unsuspecting audience member. Perhaps not so unsuspecting, though? His outfit is pretty wild too.