Sunday, January 10, 2010

Please come to Boston...

We just got back from a mini-vacation in Boston that was sweet, cold, fun and renewing. I have always like this town - small, European and filled with history and art - despite some of the goofy songs like this from the 70s...

When I was a child, my father would take us into Boston to explore the historical sites (something he renewed upon retirement by becoming a tour guide in Washington, DC) and I have fond memories of walking the Freedom Trail and prowling around Faneuil Hall before the renovations. Di and I have been there twice since moving back East and it continues to be intriguing to us both.

Now there are six things in this sweet world that bring me the greatest pleasure: music, tea, family, church, books and feasting - well, maybe seven if you add red wine - and we explored them all during our get-away. First thing upon checking into our hotel off Copley Square was to hit some bookstores. Then it was off to Tealuxe for Irish Breakfast tea with cinnamon crumpets and Devonshire cream. OMG! And with that we wandered around Copley Square - into shops up and down Newbury Street - and got ourselves grounded in this fun little area of what was once a fetid swamp!

While sipping tea, I asked our server about local music outlets when a young woman interrupted me and said, "Ok, so like I was eavesdropping... and if you want to go to a GREAT local jazz spot check out Wally's. It is small, very good and fixture of the Boston jazz scene forever." She was right: Wally's has been encouraging local jazz musicians from the Berklee College of Music just down the road since 1947. It is tiny - maybe 40 people would pack the place - and they serve up drinks and hardcore jazz.

So we headed off for in search of Wally's Cafe - but first we needed to walk around a few more shops and find a basement restaurant for Thai food. Along the way we prowled some of the back streets, detoured through the enormous Christian Science complex - with a building designed by I. M. Pei - and found ourselves surrounded by Northeastern University.

Eventually we found our way to Wally's where we met up with the modern day equivalent of Norm Peterson and Cliff Claven from TV's "Cheers." These two guys saw us checking out the jazz club - started talking us up and telling us what a great place it was - and then joined us inside for a drink! As soon as we stepped inside the sounds of Miles Davis on the jukebox greeted us and the inter-racial crowd felt like a friendly, foreign country after almost three years in the predominantly Anglo Berkshires. We stayed for a drink, shook hands all around when we headed out and decided we'd found a new dive to make our own.

We walked home through part of the South Side - stumbled upon the remnants of an old Anarchist bookstore - and a bunch of brownstones that once were sold for a wing and a prayer. An earnest young man waited on us in the Lucy Parson's Center Anarchist Book Shop prompting Dianne to wonder afterwards, "Why is it that earnest young men of the Left have a thing against clean hair and washing?" (Some cultural affectations seem eternal, yes?)

After a great sleep, we started exploring Back Bay in earnest: a noon organ concert at Trinity Church started the day. Ross Wood, a local Boston organist, shared the music of Guilman, Frank and Durufle for 40 minutes in this splendid old Victorian sanctuary. Then it was off to the Public Gardens to wander in the snow as little children played on the "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture. A gentle snow kept falling all day which gave our exploration a fairy-like quality.

Next came the churches: First Church in Boston - founded in 1630 - is mostly a shell of its former self after a fire in the 1970s. This was once home to all the cultural and political greats in Boston. In the early 1800s it left the Congregational Way - like many other New England churches - to walk in the more progressive Unitarian theology. It was from this congregation that Ralph Waldo Emerson once worked as an associate pastor. Then on to First Baptist Church which was designed by H. H. Richardson (who later designed Trinity Church) which includes a frieze at the top of the tower by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who designed... the Statue of Liberty. And let's not overlook Emmanuel Church and Church of the Covenant on Newberry Street as well as New Old South Church on Copley Square!

While wandering the streets of Back Bay we came upon the Vendome Memorial - a tribute to the 9 fire fighters who lost their lives in 1972 - a gut wrenching sculpture that chronicles both the events and a discarded fire fighter's coat and hat. Finally it was over to another local bookstore and cafe - and the Boston Public Library. In addition to being a massive ode to learning, there was a display about Edgar Allan Poe and his Boston roots. Not only was Poe born in Boston to an English acting family, but he began his career as a critic commenting on the early works of Hawthorne, Longfellow and Emerson. It was a little bit of heaven for the literary geeks that we are - and we devoured it all!

(Curiously, sometimes I forget - or never knew - the timeline of some of the great writers I have loved thinking that Longfellow (whom I don't really like except for "The Song of Hiawatha" - and that only because of my sentimental connections to childhood) could NEVER be contemporary to both Poe and Hawthorne. OOOPPPS!)

Finally we discovered another basement eatery that specialized in INCREDIBLE Mediterranean food and we feasted and feasted and feasted. Lots of fine food and wonderful people before walking around a snow filled Copley Square that was still lighted for Epiphany. Our trip ended the following day with four hours in the Museum of Fine Arts. The initial attraction was a Toulouse Lautrec exhibit but what we found most fascinating was a contemporary exhibit exploring the connections between visual art and music called: Seeing Songs.

It was a blessing - and I am grateful.


Black Pete said...

And yet, welcome home, RJ.

RJ said...

Thanks, my man: glad to be home.

jobo said...

i am from boston, work at the library and go to teaxluxe daily. im glad you mentioned them and us.
i enjoyed your post. my question is what is the basement place that serves mideastern food? i want to go there. thanks

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