Nick, our Armenian Butcher

I walked to the butcher today to reserve a chicken for supper. Needing the breasts split in half, I asked him if he could do it. “When you come back?” he asked.
“5:30,”I said.
“Come back at 5:30,”whimsically,”and I will split the chicken before your very eyes!”

This experience at lunch also brought to my attention the level of trust we neighbors have in each other. I tried to buy dried fruit, but alas, had no cash. They didn’t take Visa. The counter guy, also Armenian, told me I could eat it now and pay for it when I came back for the chicken. Surprised, I left cheerfully and made every effort to return as soon as possible after work, so any suspicion of my untrustworthiness wouldn’t linger. I’m glad I live in Watertown.

“huzzah! her sides are made of iron!”

Emerging from the subway the other day, I was comforted by the bells of the Park Street Church chiming “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” I looked around and wondered if anyone else felt it like I did.

Tami managed to get two tickets for Sufjan Stevens last night, performing at the hip, rinky-dink Somerville theatre. I joined her there. Of course, it was amazing, and it was in a theatre where people sat and ate popcorn while they enjoyed the show. Sufjan’s sheepish and poetic mannerisms enthralled me, as did the cornucopia of instruments and the birthday cake they brought out at the end for the bass player. I’ll try to post pictures once I get them developed.

Today Hope and I ventured out to Old Ironsides (aka the USS Consitution), residing in Charlestown. It’s the oldest commissioned ship in the world, and it’s beautiful. I learned all about the conflict with the Barbaries in Tripoli in the early 19th century, an event that basically shaped the U.S. Marines as we know them. The navy teamed up with the rival heir to the throne of Tripoli (he lived in Egypt, I think), and attacked Tripoli, home of the Barbary pirates who would capture ships during times of war and peace, by land and sea. Thus, Old Ironsides has been undefeated since 1795.

The Red Line

Anyone who’s curious about Beantown’s demographics need do no more than ride the Red Line from Harvard Square south to any stop in Dorchester. I’ve completed it twice, and the change onboard is almost dramatic – from preppy and privileged to poor and disadvantaged. Read this article from the Boston Phoenix about the incompetence of the Boston police department. Apparently the number of murders here has risen significantly in the past 10 years, a trend that contradicts the lower rate of violent crime in most major American cities. Most of these murders occur in the Dorchester/Roxbury/Mattapan area south of Boston. People point to the police dept’s inability to solve these crimes as the real culprit.

On a lighter note, my sisters, Anna and Heidi, visited me this Labor Day weekend. We saw everything. Everything includes the Museum of Fine Arts (with an amazing Buddhist temple), the Public Library, Commonwealth Avenue, the Public Garden, the Common, the Skywalk Observatory 750 ft in the air (from which we watched the Red Sox take on the Orioles), the JFK Library and Museum (very cool), Harvard and Davis Square bars and coffeeshops, Hope’s Town Diner for pancakes, and finally, the Freedom Trail, which took us all the way through Revolutionary history to Old Ironsides in Charlestown. Monday meant that the boat was closed, however.

Most of all, though, we were disappointed that we couldn’t pull a certain triplet trick, one we had never thought of but were suddenly presented with on Saturday. For supper we ate at Dick’s Last Resort, a fitting name for a mediocre restaurant. I didn’t have my ID on me, putting our identical nature to the test. Would the waitress believe we were triplets? Would she thus let me buy a drink? I got excited about convincing her. Unfortunately, she didn’t ask to see our licenses. That tricky situation will have to wait for another time.

recognizing people

I’m now familiar with my bus and subway companions. I still haven’t talked to them, preserving the ancient rite of staring down at one’s feet while one commutes into town (if one has no book or Boston Herald to read). But I always thank the bus driver once I reach Hahvad Squaere.

Last night we welcomed more recognizable people – Keri and Tami, the last of the housemates. Hauling their things up two flights of stairs was no easy task, however, so we solicited the help of two worthy church friends, Oliver and Matthew. To thank them we ordered some yummy pizzas and talked with them about what it was like to winter over in Boston. “Embrace it,” they advised. “It’s not as bad as everyone says it is.” It’s not the South Pole, certainly, but it is, according to Hope’s brother, “CanadaLite,” and for that we must prepare ourselves.

The hurricane aftermath is unreal. Read this by David Brooks (go ahead and read it now, before you have to pay for it), explaining how storms can expose racial and economic injustice. Good historical perspective.

St. Anthony’s Feast

Hope and I showed up Friday night at New England’s largest Italian Religious Festival – the Feast of St. Anthony in the North End (Little Italy). We didn’t know what we were in for.

The six blocks were speckled with pasta, tripe, eggplant, and cannoli stands, bustling with loud-mouthed Italians and tantalizing scents and colorful trinkets and stuffed animals. Some of it was junky, some worthwhile. We found a daiquiri stand, selling four flavors in your cup of choice for $10 with free refills (imitation rum, of course). Hope got a tall wooden cup engraved with some kind of animal. The vendors handed us complimentary beads later on. A little farther down the street, some folks had started gathering around a small building that you entered via purple curtain. A West Side Story-type punk sat on top of the building with some of his similar friends, jeering at his buddies down on the street. We asked a couple Italian ladies, Carmela and Norma, to tell us what was happening, and they explained that the statue of St. Anthony would soon appear and be marched down to the chapel. The crowd grew quickly, excited, chatty, anticipating the main event. Sure enough, the distant sounds of tuba and snare drum came closer – the North End marching band had arrived, hailing the replica of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved saints.

The statue came out, adorned with dollar bills and buttons. The boys on the roof threw down bucketfuls of confetti. Italian crooner Aaron Caruso sang a rousing version of the Star-Spangled Banner. Fireworks erupted at the other end of the street. All of this happened simultaneously. I didn’t know what it all meant, but I was caught up in the thrill anyway. I skipped the public prayer to St. Anthony, however. Some things I can’t justify biblically.

As the city grew darker, the partying grew more lighthearted. Caruso, in his bright red shirt and black rock star pants, joined a diva from L.A. in several cheesy choruses on center stage. We danced. Every once in a while we’d hear and see the marching band, weaving their way through the streets and up into buildings. We drank more daiquiris – strawberry, banana, blue hawaiian – and ate minestrone and fish at a local restaurant. We were happy, confetti in our hair and all.

I love the way Italians look – seasoned and hard and wiry.

Graves and beer bottles

Something about an old graveyard makes death more immediate. Yesterday I discovered that the Granary Burial Ground is near my office. It resembles something you’d see in a Tim Burton film. Through the fence I could see the shoddy tombstones of Samuel Adams and five victims of the Boston Massacre, including Crispus Attucks. Paul Revere, John Hancock, and some other notables are buried there, too. It looks small, but around 5,000 people lie beneath the slate stones, interwoven with pedestrian walkways and quiet tourists. I went in and found that someone had planted a Sam Adams Lite bottle next to his modest grave, and I chuckled at the image. Wish I had had my camera.

When I read about historical figures, I think about what they did with their lives. When I see their tombs, I think about what they did with their lives, and then I think, “They’re dead.” It’s not so one-dimensional. Mortality, of course, brings everything into perspective.

I was right

The Frog Pond Pavilion does turn into an ice skating rink in winter. This I learned from a woman who chatted with me over lunch (I ate sushi and she, McDonald’s). I’ll hit it up at first freeze.

city sights

Funny how you never know what you’re going to see in the city. Yesterday, at the Park Street station, I saw a man shaped like a box. His right arm was longer than his left, and his frame was short and square, with his neck stuffed somewhere into his body so that his head met his shoulder at a right angle. He stood with a perpetual shrug. Everything else about him was normal – suit, hair, etc.

Today as I lunched on the Boston Common, I spotted a small woman marching towards me in a red colonial-style dress, holding a lavendar parasol. She had a cell phone attached to her apron straps. An actress, no doubt, but still amusing.

And speaking of the Common (truly a “common,” where mingle the homeless and brahmins alike), there’s a new hot air balloon in the middle of the park. It’s free, and a long rope will keep you from flying across the Atlantic. The business who sponsors it wants to put a balloon in every city. There’s also a wading pond with a fountain, which makes me wonder if it transforms into a skating rink in winter.

I need new pants

I’m not sure why I bought these pants for work. I’m going to take them back to Filene’s at once.

My blog title and description are shout-outs to those men whose spirits permeate this area: Hawthorne and Thoreau. Essentially, they describe what life is and what it ought to be. They inspire me to focus on singular passions as I embark on Beantown adventures.

What excites me about living here:
taking voice lessons
volunteering at NPR
helping plant a church in Dorchester, a poor neighborhood in Boston
eating food and staying warm with my roommates
taking a dip in walden pond
applying to graduate school

oh…and berating the Red Sox.

I’ll catch up with you all when I change these colors.

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