Boston, Part Deux

Yesterday, our Boston extravaganza continued. Despite it being MLK day, Graham and Rainey both had to work. What kind of justice is that? They left Chris and I sleeping as they crept out of the house to start their respective days, and sleep we did. Late. You don’t need to know the details, just know that it was late.When we did get our rears in gear, we ambled about and caught the 1:17 commuter train from Roslindale to Back Bay, then switched to the Orange Line on the subway. What urban travelers are we! I think useful public transit is such a civilized thing and, besides, riding the subway involves use of a Charlie Card and you can’t even imagine how much I like saying Charlie Card over and over again. Just ask Chris! Public transit isn’t necessarily cheap, of course. I think it cost us each $4.25 for a one-way train ticket to Back Bay (as we knew we’d be riding home with Graham at the end of the day) and another $1.70 for our subway ticket. (The latter being theoretical since Graham had kindly provided us each with $5 loaded on our Charlie Cards. Charlie Card! I said it again!) If you’re paying that every day, even with reduced return rates, it adds up. Still, probably not as much as a car payment, plus insurance, plus gas.

01.15.07 Old City HallWe got off the subway at the State Street station which is, quite literally, directly below the Old State House, where Rainey works. It’s kind of odd to come up from below the ground and behold this lovely little brick statehouse – once the tallest building in the area – towered over by great modern skyscrapers. Thank goodness for the historical preservationists who had the foresight to save this little landmark, which is practically the seat of democracy in this nation.

Rainey is the Director of Exhibits for Boston’s Historical Society and, after a delicious and nostalgic Turkish lunch (was that really a year ago?) at Sultan’s Kitchen, she treated us to a quick but delightful tour of the museum. It’s a really special treat to get to see a collection through the eyes of a person so intimately acquainted with it. In addition to having objects and displays come alive because of additional insight, there’s an extra boost from experiencing first-hand the passion that drives those who collect and preserve the things that make up our past.

I don’t know that I’d have experienced goose bumps just looking at the folded Liberty Tree flag myself, but with Rainey telling me how they’re going about authenticating it and how it may be the first flag to use white and red stripes as a symbol of this nation, it really was pretty amazing. I don’t know that I’ll ever look at a small museum quite the same way again, now that I have an inside track on the effort, knowledge and affection that goes into maintaining and displaying it all.

Rainey let us wander about the museum a bit while she finished up her work for the day. Among my favorite objects was a little glass vial of tea from the infamous party of that name in the Boston Harbor. It was gathered by a woman from the boots of her husband and I have to say, thank God for women and their need to hang onto objects or we wouldn’t have such treasures. I also got a kick out of Paul Revere’s red velvet coat. He was not a big man – not tall nor particularly broad-shouldered. So if you’re on the skinny side and thinking of letting it stop you from becoming a Patriot, don’t.

As she showed us a copy of Paul Revere’s famous etching of the Boston Massacre, Rainey provided some fascinating insight. Seems Revere’s artistic account – and the name they dubbed the incident – were all deliberately distorted to rouse up anti-Brit sentiment. A little early-day spin, so to speak. In the etching, Revere shows British red coats firing upon Bostonians a the order of their commander.

01.15.07 Quincy Market 01In reality, apparently, the whole event took place when a wig-maker’s assistant hassled one of the British soldiers guarding the Customs House. The two got into it, a crowd gathered and the British were soon outnumbered and trying to defend their posts. No one knows who fired the first shot, but someone did, and then the other soldiers followed suit, trying to regain control of the crowd.

When all was said and done, three people lay dead, including Crispus Atticks, a freed slave, who became a martyr for the cause of independence. (Two others died days later.) Rainey says a more appropriate title would probably be the Boston Accident. Isn’t that fascinating? I thought so. She’s so smart! I love that Rainey girl.

After our tour of the museum, we walked less than a block over to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. When we lived in Newton, we’d bring out-of-town visitors here and while I have vague recollections of flower carts and other shops, I doubt much remains the same after 30 years. An 8-year-old’s world is pretty small and mine, in particular, pretty culinary. Thus, what I remember most was going downstairs inside Quincy Market to Swensen’s Ice Cream parlor for treats.

Sadly, it’s no longer there. But I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the look on my Grandpa Smillie’s face when he came to visit and we took him there and he was handed an entire menu of ice cream treats. Of course, now that I’m older and understand that he was diabetic I’m not sure what we were doing taking him to Swensen’s but the man had a sweet tooth like nobody’s business.

Fanueil Hall was closed for MLK so we didn’t get to take a gander at the upstairs, but we walked through the inside which is now rather dingy and houses a few small shops. Quincy Market, by contrast, seems beautifully maintained inside and now houses an impressive food court. The North and South Markets the flank Quincy Market house mostly mainstream shops now – Crate & Barrel, Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, etc. Nothing too exciting.

01.15.07 North End 01And did I mention it was raining? It rained almost the entire time we were there and though we never seemed to quite dry out and get warm, I can’t complain, because a few degrees colder and it could’ve been ice. But it was the kind of misty rain that, accompanied by mild wind, gets you from all sides and seeps into your hat, wets your gloves and gets in your eyes. That said, it was kind of cool the way the clouds came down and swallowed the tops of the city’s skyscrapers.

We walked from Quincy Market to the North End, passing Paul Revere's house on the way. The North End is packed with Italian shops and restaurants along charming streets. As we killed time waiting for Graham to join us and find parking (never an easy task in Beantown), Rainey filled us in on the neighborhood’s cannoli war, which has been raging since the 1940s, when Mike's Pastry opened its doors right across the street from Modern Pastry.

01.15.07 North End 05We popped into both to get a sense of each. Mike’s is definitely bigger, with a far more impressive display of baked goods, trays of marzipan fruit and their special “lobster claw” cannoli, giant shoe horn shaped pastry stuffed with filling. Modern Pastry is smaller and, according to locals, a little less "attitude-y" as a result of its reputation.  In other words, Mike’s apparently suffers from being too comfortable with its status as cannoli royalty.

We then ate dinner at a little Italian place called Giacomo’s, on main thoroughare Hanover Street. We were welcomed and tended to by loud, no-nonsense friendly Italians who yelled to one another across a small room tightly packed with tables.

Good food followed by a trip back to Modern Pastry, where the cannoli shells are filled to order, and your pastries placed in an old-fashioned pastry box and tied with signature red-and-white string. 01.15.07 North End 07Where else could you get two cannoli, a slice of chocolate mousse cake, a Neapolitan, and two coffees in such quaint style for about 11 bucks?

It was relatively early to bed most evenings in Boston since Graham’s show tapes early each morning, but that suited us just fine. By the end of a day of misty rain, nothing’s nicer than cuddling under a blanket on the sofa or climbing into bed under a cozy comforter.

Tuesday, we made our final trip out of Roslindale and met Rainey at the Museum where we dumped our bags. The three of us headed for lunch in Quincy Market and then Chris and I strolled a bit downtown, despite plummeting temps. For nostalgia’s sake (and because, apparently, we did nothing but eat in Boston), we stopped into one of the last remaining Brigham’s Ice Cream shops.

01.15.07 Brigham's 01Thirty years ago, there were Brigham’s restaurants all over Boston, including one in our neighborhood of Newton. It was a real treat when my mom would take us there and probably the place I had my first hamburger, served up on a nice toasted bun. The waitress at our local Brigham’s took a shine to my little brother David and was always so nice to us. We’d have orange sodas in Coca-Cola glasses filled with crushed ice and, for dessert, raspberry sherbet served in metal dishes and topped with Brigham’s signature chocolate jimmies.

Sadly, the raspberry sherbet is no longer on the menu at Brigham’s, but I settled for rainbow sherbet with jimmies and picked out the raspberry bit – really more a blast-from-the-past photo op for my siblings’ sake than culinary delight. Afterwards, we burned off a few calories digging through the bins and racks at Filene’s Basement. Good thing our luggage was already tightly packed, since there were quite a few steals I could have picked up. But we limited ourselves to a really nice zip-up Calvin Klein sweater for Chris – a veritable bargain at just $29!

A little more walking and a last check-in with Rainey and we were on our way to the airport. It was a breeze to take the Blue Line on the subway from the State Stree station. There, you hop off and get on a shuttle bus to your terminal. All said, it was about a 25 minute trip. Remarkable, considering it inevitably takes 25 minutes for the friggin’ parking shuttle to arrive at the Blue Deck at Detroit Airport. Ridiculous!

01.17.07 Back Deck 01We arrived back home early evening to find Ann Arbor encased in glassy ice, although the streets seem well-treated. Our back deck looks like a Christmas display, the tree branches shining silver, icicles hanging from the Adirondack chairs. When the wind blows, the branches of the trees make a clicking sound as they touch each other. Cold, but beautiful. 

My 826 Michigan workshop starts up again tonight for another six-week run, so I’ll spend the afternoon staying warm and prepping for that. It looks like I’ve got six students this time around – ranging in age from 14 to 18 – for the “You’ve Got to Work It!” class. I know that several are repeats from the last round and I’m really looking forward to seeing them, reading their work and getting to know the new students. This class has been especially rewarding for me and very useful in helping me consider the type of teaching I’d like to do in the future. Off to prepare!

(Psst...see more photos of our Boston trip here.)