Boston 2017: Part 2

We began our second day of our trip adventuring in Rhode Island. After a good night’s sleep after the delightful dinner party, we awoke to the sounds of nature, bird calls and wind rustling through the trees. As a group, we decided to start the day with a visit to an annual local photography exhibition and then a hike through the woods. We’d have lunch at a nearby winery and then make our way back to Boston.

The local photography exhibition was held in the second floor of a public building in a local town. There were about 30 photographs; many focused on the theme of nature. Some of them were pretty good; one depicted stones and leaves, imprinted on a beach. One of the winning photos depicted a photograph to which one of our hosts noted that it was a little stereotypical given that we were in New England.

Our next stop was hiking in a nearby forest. The first part of the hike was perfect. The sun filtered through the explosion of green leaves; nearby ponds were bursting with life. Wooden planks shielded us from the wet path. We came to a large pond or lake with little nesting houses for local sea birds. It was nature at her best.


With the goodwill inspired by the first hike, we ventured off path into the grass to check out another part of the lake. Quickly the terrain became muddy and trickier to navigate. We did see some lovely birds and one or two snakes. But after about 10 minutes, we decided to turn back since the path became even thicker with mud. And then that’s when we noticed the ticks. Our friend had mentioned that it had been a boon year for them so we weren’t completely unaware of it. But it soon became a tickpocalypse. For the first time ever, I found two ticks on my pants, which we quickly dispensed of. Others in the part found a multitude more including a record of five off of my husband. Apparently, there are three independent factors for a healthy crop of ticks. First is a wet spring; the second, an explosion in population of mice (possibly dormice); and third, an increase in deer. Sadly, all three happened at once so it was tickapolooza.

We then decided to head off to the winery. We had been told by several people that the wine wasn’t the best but they had tasty food. But we soldiered on, keen to try it. I’d been to very few wineries so it seemed like a fun thing to do. When we got there, we were told that there was a wait for food. Half our party decided to go elsewhere. We decided to do a wine tasting while we waited. When we paid for our wine tasting, the cashier pointed out that my husband had a tick on his back. However, he was too busy killing a tick on the cuff of his shirt. He proceeded to find two more additional ticks during our time at the winery and a fifth when we got home and did a tick check.

The wine… it wasn’t the best, unfortunately. Each wine did have a neat associated graphic design that I appreciated. We did have a nice time chatting and enjoying the convivial atmosphere. We finally were seated and the food was rather tasty. I had some flatbread that included fig jam. Everything tastes better with fig jam.
We briefly stopped off at our host’s house to pack up and throw our hiking clothes in the dryer to get rid of any residual ticks. Then it was off back to Cambridge to return the car and then to Boston to meet our friends. We had dinner at an old fashioned Italian restaurant Marliave that was great. They had a wondrous selection of cocktails; I only wish we had time to linger there. We had an appointment for a ghost tour.

As any reader of this blog knows, we always try to go on a ghost tour no matter where we visit. This was no exception. We ran to the graveyard where the tour began and caught it just before it head off to its first stop. It was a delightful tour, focusing largely on the Boston Green. We heard tales of residual ghosts in a graveyard, a man whose burned remains were found in a toilet at an institution of learning, an accused witch hung from a tree. My favorite story was about a highwayman who decided to write the story of his life and give the book, bound in HIS OWN FLESH, to the man who caught him. It currently resides in the Boston Athenaeum. Next time we are in Boston we have to go this library (not just because of this but because the library is supposed to be lovely). We ended in the Omni Parker House that had a variety of stories of angry ghosts making life for visitors unpleasant. The best was a story of a mirror owned by Charles Dickens on the second floor. Naturally, when the tour dispersed, we made our way there to check it out. It was pretty neat.

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We ended the night at a gastropub with a healthy beer selection with our friends.

That’s all for now!

NYC Spring 2016: Part 2

The next day started with a trip to the Union Square Green Market. It’s a favorite of my parents and we always try to go when the weather is nice. It was a little brisk and early in the season so they weren’t many vendors out. But there were waves of beautiful fragrant flowers. Goodness, winter makes me miss nature so much! We had breakfast nearby at the Coffee Shop where I had delicious omelette. I love the entry walls to the place are covered in crushed up chinaware. Very cute.

I spent sometime wandering around the Strand bookstore, one of my favorites in NYC. Not only does it have a fantastic collection of books, it always has an amazing literary/nerdy selection of socks. There I said it.

Afterwards, we decided to walk up from Union Square to Macy’s. We briefly stopped into Rizzoli, a fancy bookstore, on the way. There used to be Rizzoli in Chicago but the chain contracted. Now it’s got a lovely bookstore near 26th street but it’s high end with lots of beautiful books. We continued our walk, watching as the neighborhood changed over and over. There were fancy boutique shops, then costume jewelry shops, and then to giant stores like Macy’s. The Flower Show was going on, which is one of my favorite retail events each year. While I prefer Chicago’s Macy’s Flower show, the one at Macy’s flagship was nice. The windows were fine but the interior is exciting. Throughout the first floor, there are flower displays that are out of this world. The theme this year was America so there were displays for the Midwest, the Pacific, NYC, and more. One display had mannequins modeling hats that I wanted to steal. Alas! There were some very patriotic flower displays as well. Good times.

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Macy’s. I want the hats.

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Macy’s

I continued my walk back to the hotel in midtown. I had a special mission to go to a coffee/chocolate shop on Park Avenue called 2bean. It was one of the few shops carrying a new spectacular chocolate bar called Marou, which was written about in the NYTimesThe bars are colored coded due to the color of the beans! They had just gotten a shipment the day before (I called) and were already out of two or three bar types by the time I got there. I was getting a birthday present for my best friend. The shop reminded me a lot of Hannah’s Bretzel because it is covered in different kinds of fancy candy bars. But it has even more than Hannah’s Bretzel. So cool.

I then walked up to Momofuku for my favorite truffle balls. There was a fairly healthy line but the balls are totally worth it. I got three packs of “Birthday Cake,” “Dulce de Leche,” and “Mint Chocolate.” I didn’t love the “Dulce de Leche” ones but they are still good.

Then I ran off to meet my husband who had just arrived in NYC. We decided to walk through Central Park to the Museum of Natural History and have tea at Alice’s, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop. I’ve been in Alice’s before but I had never stayed. It’s near the museum. We got there just in time as we were the top of a long line to get seats. The place was charming but not overwhelming in Alice in Wonderland mania. That was a bit of a disappointment. There were murals (especially in the bathroom) that made me very pleased. There were doors to the kitchen with keyhole windows in them, which was cool. But it could have upped the theme. We decided to keep it simple with tea and scones. (High tea seems to be too much for me these days). We had the Alice tea and I had the pumpkin scone. Both were delicious. So that was nice. It’s a tad pricey for tea and scones but it was nice to do once.

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Alice’s

I was excited about taking my husband to the museum since he had never been before. The last time I went was in graduate school when I was visiting my best friend who worked at school nearby. I had spent the entire time in the Ancient Americas’ rooms. When we got there, there was a line. Thankfully, it moved quickly so we were in the ticket line inside within about 10 minutes. Once in, we wandered accidentally into the Carl Akeley Hall, which was amazing. I had read a biography about him. He’s basically the man that made taxidermy into what we think of today. Many of the dioramas and specimens at the Field are his work. (The two elephants in the entryway were shot by him and his wife. She shot the larger of the two). So the hall at the NYC museum was wonderful. There was a herd of elephants in the middle (Possibly all shot by him though). Around the first floor were beautiful scenes of animals in the wild. Magnificent.

Then we made a beeline for the dinosaurs, both of our favorites. There was a dinosaur, titanosaur, that was so big that it couldn’t be kept in a single room. It kinda looks like a giant brontosaurus. Very neat. They had a good collection of dinosaurs including many triceratops skulls.

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We imagined this dino was a lot like my husband

We also wandered into the Ancient Americas to say hello to old friends. They have a giant Olmec head, which most would recognize as Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Of course, the people who made the head are actually the Olmecs…but anyway, it was nice to check out their collection. It’s smaller than the Field but I love checking out the pottery and stone carvings.

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Possibly Moche pottery

Before we left, we did check out the famous blue whale, which freaked me out as a kid. It’s still kinda insane. The museum has moved away whatever used to be beneath it and now you can lie down and stare up at it.

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled through Central Park. It was a really wonderful walk as nature was beginning to wake up. Budding trees, tiny daffodils pushing their heads up through the dirt. There were plenty of rocks to climb (though I never seem to wear the right kind of shoe for that kind of thing). We even shared a pretzel while walking through the Poet’s Corner. So classic NYC movie, I feel. But fun to do, nonetheless.

That night, we ate Italian food in a nearby restaurant named Teodora, that had food from Reggio Emilia. It feels like they took someone’s home and converted it into a restaurant. I had a wonderful plate of gnocchi, my favorite. Afterwards, we met a friend in Union Square for a drink. The place kinda had a speakeasy feel since there weren’t any signs. Inside, it was richly furnished with deep wood and low lighting. The cocktails were wonderful; I had champagne with raspberries, which made me happy. My husband got a wonderful drink of prosecco, sorbet and a third ingredient that I have forgotten. Very tasty. It was a lovely place to end the day.

That’s all for now!

 

My Chicago Books

Last week, I was talking to one of my coworkers who is currently reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. She was reading it because she wanted to learn more about Chicago, both its history and literature. Personally, I’ve never read the book and probably won’t read it in the future.

However, it got me thinking about books about Chicago. What books would I recommend to someone reading about Chicago? Now, this is not an all-inclusive list by any stretch of the imagination. I’m learning a lot about Chicago history and have many more great books to read. However, I have listed a few books below that I have thoroughly enjoyed about our fair city.

1. Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott

This has to be one of my favorite history books ever. It is a wonderful history book about the notorious (and amazing) the Everleigh Sisters and their brothel the Everleigh Club. Whatever you feel about prostitution, these women were badasses. It also discusses other characters, like Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink Kenna, in the Levee, Chicago’s Red light district. The book also looks at the religious crusaders against the Levee and prostitution. I’ve played Minna Everleigh at least twice in historical reenactments and my portrayals are based on this book.

2. Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams

Yes, this is number two because Jane Addams is the bees knees. She started Hull House, founded Peace organizations, won the Noble Peace Prize, and much more. She writes about her early life and intellectual formation, children’s rights, women’s rights, fights against political corruption, the Pullman strike, and so much more. This is an important and interesting book to read about Chicago and activism history. Not only did she do great things, she writes really articulately about them. Also, she isn’t afraid to talk about her mistakes too.

3. My Thirty Years’ War: An Autobiography by Margaret Anderson

Margaret Anderson is a character. She started the Little Review, a literary journal that first published James Joyce’s Ulysses in serial in the United States. This book is a crazy account of her early life to her 30s. She is vivacious, and scheming. She really pushes the boundries and somehow manages to borrow grand pianos a lot. And she lived in a tent on the beach near Chicago for awhile to save on rent.

4. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

This is a wonderful coming of age novel about a girl living in Chicago in a Hispanic community. It’s a series of vignettes sometimes only a page or two long. Cisneros’ language is lush and haunting.

5. Anything by Studs Terkel

Okay, I’m cheating here. Studs Terkel wrote many books and many didn’t deal with Chicago directly. However, I think his philosophy and spirit in his books is fundamentally Chicagoan (or have become Chicagoan). Many of his books are oral histories of people. Some are centered around a topic like the Great Depression and others around a music. So go and read Division Street or Giants of Jazz if you are interested in learning about people. A wise man once said: “if you are tired of London, you are tired of life.“ Well, I think it’s fair to say if you are tired of Studs Terkel’s books, you are tired of life.

6. Anything by Stuart Dybek

I’ll confess that I haven’t read Dybek in years. I’ve been meaning to reread his works. But what I remember remains strong in my memory. He captures the day to day life of Chicago in such beauty and sometimes humorous terms. Check out Childhood and other Neighborhoods or The Coast of Chicago. He also writes poetry.

7. Neon Wilderness by Nelson Algren

This book of short stories takes you to the part of Chicago that we want to forget about. Sometimes the stories are hard to handle. But Nelson Algren brings the drunks, the junkies, and other forgotten people from out of the shadows and makes you aware, even for a few minutes, about the other Chicago. I think his work is important to read to have a fuller view of Chicago.

8. Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America, edited by Paul Durica and Bill Savage

This book was intended to be a guide for travelers to the 1893 World’s Fair. It ended up coming out later than expected (and many places listed in the book had since closed). But it’s a wonderful look at late 19th century US. It’s witty at times. (At one point, it says that the best place to see gambling is the stock exchange). Full Disclosure: the editors are friends of mine. But it is well worth checking out.

And that’s it for now. I’ve got a long way to go. I need to read something by Alex Kotlowitz. But I’m open to more suggestions. And I have no intention of reading Devil in the White City. Sorry.

Right now, I’m reading Thomas Dyja’s The Third Coast. It took a bit to get into it but I’m really digging it right now. It’s a wonderful history of Chicago from just before WWII through the 1960s. It brings together many narratives about Chicago from its architects, politicians, and African American leaders and artists. It weaves blues, McDonalds, Playboy, housing, racism, Great Books together.

That’s all!

That Belongs in a Museum Part 2

Last night was another wonderful edition of “That Belongs in a Museum.” Like the first, it was a wondrous live literary event. Basically, people are invited to bring objects and share stories about them. The objects can be anything from a pair of shoes to a statue head. All that matters is that the objects have a story, personal or otherwise. This time, one of the organizers talked about the idea of a symposium. Apparently, it means drinking party and harkens back to Ancient Greece and Plato’s symposium, where guys got drunk, talked about sex and love, drinking on couches. That’s the life. Nowadays, the symposium tends to be an academic affair sans alcohol (Well, the drinking comes afterwards). “That Belongs in a Museum” brings back the drinking to the symposium. Cheers to that!

This time, I presented a less personal item. I brought a book called “El Atravesado” by Andres Caicedo. The book cover is made from cardboard, which is hand painted bright green with the word “CAICEDO” written on it. It’s a book from the incredible publishing house Eloísa Cartonera in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Basically, in the early 2000s, the Argentine economy tanked. If I recall correctly, the government depegged the peso to the dollar. Inflation was rife; people lost their entire life savings. There was high unemployment and barter economy started to resume. They went through five presidents in about two weeks.

As a result of the crisis, there was a group of people called cartoneros who would pick through garbage to find cardboard. The government had a sort of social security net where they would pay the cartoneros for the cardboard. The founder of Eloísa Cartonera, Javier Barilaro, Washington Cucurto, and eventually Fernanda, founded the publishing house. They bought cardboard from the cartoneros at a higher rate than the government and used it to bind their books. Either the cartoneros themselves or their kids would hand paint the covers. The books are by obscure to famous authors in Latin America. The motto is “No hay cuchillos sin rosas” or “There are no knives without roses.” In addition to providing a response to the economic conditions, it also provided an alternative to other published books. Books are expensive in Argentina. These cardboard books were very reasonable; maybe they were a few dollars. I believe that the model has spread to other countries in Latin America and even Africa. I love it. It’s like the zines here in the US but an entire publishing house. You can read more about it on their English language page here.

There were many other amazing objects. There was the name dropping matchbook, a jean jacket with a picture of Poison on the back from the 1980s (and mom jeans to boot!), a book of “Facts” from 1903, a book about insomnia used to bridge the gap between siblings, a 3D printed detail of the Chicago River, a dog’s head bookend that reminds a gentlemen of his veterinary grandfather. But if you want to see and hear these pieces, check out the website when it is up. Better yet, go to the next event in June!

That’s all!

Part 1: “Travel” Books

I’m just about finished with Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, a historical novel set in turn of the century NY about Tiffany studios. It is in the perspective of Clara Driscoll, a Tiffany glass designer and head of the Tiffany Studio’s Women’s Glass Cutting Department. She may be the one responsible for designing the brilliant nature inspired lamps. It’s a pretty good book but it’s not my favorite historical novel. However, it’s an interesting story of a Victorian woman negotiating life as an artist and a trailblazer. It makes me want to pick up an actually history about Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany Girls.”

Anyway, I bring this up because as a reward for finishing the book, I’m finally going to the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, which has an enormous collection of Tiffany Glass with a special exhibition of more Tiffany Glass. Clara Driscoll talks a lot about the process to produce the windows and other glass objects. There is an obsession with light and color. Everything had to be just so. There is the precision in cutting the glass, whether to cut it in sheets or in gem shape. There is the layering, which helps give depth to pieces. And much more. The book will really enhance the experience at the museum.

This got me thinking about the effect that books have on our visit to places. In other words, how reading a novel or a history can really enhance the experience of travel. Now, I don’t mean a travel guide or an article, I mean a book. So I’m going to put together a series of posts about books that enhance a visit to a particular place. Some will be sublime, some won’t. You can read them before or after your visit. But these are books that really contributed to my enjoyment of a particular place.

I’m going to start with Venice, one of my favorite places in the entire world. It’s a gem of a city. Every corner yields a new surprise: a shrine to Mary. a door knocker in the shape of a lion, a picturesque canal.

There are three things that you have to look past. It’s going to be really hot in the summer since it’s all stone reflecting the sun or it’s going to be cold and damp (with possible flooding) in the winter. It’s probably going to smell since the lagoon is still gross. And you walk pretty much everywhere (some find that problematic).

But it’s well worth it. There is the Peggy Guggenheim museum of modern art, which is extraordinary both for its collection and its view on the Grand Canal. St Mark’s place is extraordinary at any time of the day. There is shining mosaics on St. Mark’s basilica with the stolen horses of Constantinople. You can visit the Doge’s palace and prison. Or you can take the elevator up the tower and see all of Venice stretched out with its pale red roofs and gray canals.

There is a biannual contemporary art festival that installs wondrous things around the city like red penguins in balconies or giant balls of yarn. And the city changes so much from day to night. The expensive cafes in St. Marks’ have bands that battle at night.

I have two recommendations for Venice. The first is the Commissionario Brunetti series by Donna Leon. The first book is Death at La Fence. They give a thorough look at contemporary Venetian society through the eyes of Commissionario Brunetti, who is a real treat. He strives to find justice despite the corruption and lethargy of the Italian state. He is a rounded out character, you see his family life with his wife, an English professor, and his two children who have personalities and whims of their own.

The mysteries themselves are wonderful. You don’t know if the bad guy is going to be caught or brought to justice, which is a change in the genre. Each book concentrates on different parts of society, whether it is the glass factories, the gondoliers, the African immigrants selling fake bags at night.

The second recommendation is The Venetian Stories by Jane Turner Rylands. It’s a series of loosely connected stories of different people living in Venice. They are beautiful stories of people trying to find their ways in an ancient city. There are stories in the point of view of non-Venetians who live in the city too.

So check these out if you are going to Venice. Or check them out because they are good books to read anyway.