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!

Part 2: France and England

Bordeaux is the heart of wine country. It’s surrounded by fields of vineyards with chateaus that specialize in their specific wine. My first memory of Bordeaux was seeing a little vineyard in the airport itself. Normally, you find a grassy island surrounded by airport buildings and roads; here there were several lines of vines.

On Christmas day, we decided to venture out into the region to explore some of the local towns. Our first stop was St. Emillon. It’s actually an UNESCO World Heritage site because of its role in winemaking. It’s a wonderful perched village or a village on top of a hill. It has the most magnificent views of the countryside around. I’ve also never seen so many wine shops in my life. I remember looking at the prices for one particularly expensive wine, Petrus, and finding the cheapest bottle for 900 Euros. Cheapest.

Petrus wine prices

Petrus wine prices

This trip proved a little challenging since there was little open. It was Christmas day after all. We did venture into a cloister that led into an empty church. The Romanesque church had these faded murals that spoke of another time. It was a bit eerie how the church was so empty on this particular day. But we may have arrived after services were held.

View from St. Emillon

View from St. Emillon

We did have a Christmas miracle though. Two wine shops were open. Various bottles of wine that ranged from fairly cheap to terrifying expensive were on sale. I’m always astonished at the sheer number of wines available in places like this. So many wines from one area of France! Imagine all the different wines produced in France alone! We ended up procuring a single bottle of golden colored wine; allegedly, it wasn’t a dessert wine but it was really wonderful sweet, almost like honey.

Then we drove on to Castillon-la-Bataille. Again, the town seemed abandoned due to the holiday. We came here because this was where the 100 Years War was ended when the French defeated the British. It was a lot of fun to take my Anglophile fiancé. Teehee.

Then we ventured to Bergerac. We managed to find one restaurant that was open. We were disappointed to find out that their kitchen was closed but we managed to persuade them to serve us foie gras, which was absolutely splendid. We came to the town because of Cyrano de Bergerac. We found two statues depicting the character that were situated quite close together. One was a more realistic depiction of this man with his amazing nose while the other was a bit more stylized. Again, there wasn’t much open due to the holiday. But it was a pretty town near the river.

Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Cyrano

That’s all for now. Tomorrow onwards to Toulouse and Carcassonne!

World War II: Cultural and Social Histories

A friend of mine recently got me thinking about great non-fiction books about World War II. I find the interwar and WWII era fascinating. My taste in history tends towards cultural and social histories but I have a fondness for espionage history as well. So here are six books that I recommend for someone who wants a different look at World War II.

  1. Surrender on Demand by Varian Fry

Simply put, Varian Fry is the bad ass you’ve never heard of. He was sent by the Emergency Rescue Committee to go to Vichy France and run a rescue network to assist refugees. Through his efforts, he helped Jewish and political refugees leave France to prevent their capture by Vichy government and/or the Nazis. Through his work, he helped 4,000 refugees. He is responsible for helping Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Andre Breton, and many other esteemed writers, thinkers, and artists in mid-20th century Europe. This book is a memoir of his work.

  1. Wine and War by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup

This fascinating book looks at the wine industry and culture in France during the war. It tracks the range of collaborationist activities from complete and total collaboration to outright resistance, and all the activities in between. It has fabulous stories of French restaurants hiding their best wines behind fake walls, using dust from carpet cleaners to age the wall, and hand placing spiders so they would build spider webs over walls to keep the wine from the Germans. And then some of these restaurants would take old fancy bottles of wine and fill them with crap wine, and then sell it exorbitant prices. There is also a chapter dedicated to the wine party at a POW camp.

  1. “The Good War” by Studs Terkel

This book is a series of oral histories of people involved around World War II. This was the book that made me fall in love with Studs. He talked to a range of people. Some are in favor of the war, like former nurses and soldiers, and he talks to conscientious objectors and pacifists. It’s a window into what people felt and thought about the war.

  1. And the Show Went On by Alan Riding

This book looks at art and entertainment in Paris and the rest of France during German occupation. It looks at various fields of art from writing, ballet, opera, art education, and more. It tries to get a handle on what constituted true collaboration and the responsibility of artists during wartime. It’s a troubling, important book.

  1. Agent ZigZag by Ben Macintyre

This biography looks at double agent Eddie Chapman who was critical to British espionage during the war. Eddie Chapman was an unlikely patriot; initially, he was a convict who offered his services to the Nazi but he eventually turned himself over to the British secret services to aid their war efforts. It’s an interesting tale of a crooked man trying to go straight. You also get a picture of Nazi occupied Norway. 

  1. Monument Men by Robert Edsel

Yes, the movie recently came out but the book is better. This book goes into detail about the courageous efforts of the men and women who tried to save the art and other treasures of Europe from the Nazis. Many of things that happened in the movie are even more impressive in the book. For instance, you realize that Rose Valland, who is bizarrely renamed Clare Simone and played by Cate Blanchett, in the movie, is a bad ass. For instance, in the movie, she watches helplessly as the Germans leave on a train full of artwork and things. In the book, she actually gives intelligence that helps delay those trains from leaving and saves the day. So much better than the movie. So read the book.

That’s all for now!