Category Archives: Boston

Planning & Prep Work From a Boston Perch

Did anyone else catch that ‘60 Minutes’ piece on the Millennium Tower in San Francisco? The high-rise building is sinking a few inches per year, and starting to lean as well. For those of us not paralyzed with fear at such a height, it seems lofty living is a desirable, if expensive, goal. The older I get, the more afraid of heights I grow, so I’m good with crawling around the lower levels of this planet with all the other human ants.

Sometimes, though, we yearn to fly and soar as high as we can go, and looking up at the tops of buildings and cathedrals and skyscrapers has always thrilled me. There’s something to be said for a bird’s-eye view of the world. When I was a kid, I used to climb a very tall evergreen in our backyard. The higher I went, the more exhilarated I felt. A little terrified too, and at times I would cling to the sturdy trunk and close my eyes to calm myself before carefully climbing back down.

I’m better at more reasonable perches, such as the two-and-a-half story vantage-point of our Boston home. (I say two-and-a-half because the first floor is actually above street level by quite a bit, in the brownstone tradition.) From there, one has a decent view of the street, and the John Hancock Tower. If you lean out the window a bit and strain your neck you can also glimpse a bit of the Prudential Center.

It was here that I spent a single night last weekend to prepare for the holiday season events. There’s the annual Holiday Stroll with Kira, and the relatively new Holiday Children’s Hour with Suzie’s family (and hopefully a few other kids to keep Milo and Oona company). Both have become happy holiday traditions which I’m hoping to keep going. Since I won’t likely be in Boston again until December, I had to decorate, do some laundry, and get a few things together beforehand. It was gleefully anticipatory work – my favorite sort of work – and I loosely plotted out possibilities in my head. ‘Tis almost the season…

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When Summer Gloriously Refuses to Yield

Mother Nature has taught us some valuable, and brutal, lessons this year. The first of which is rather simple: don’t fuck with her. I was psychologically ready to turn the page to fall and snuggle into some cozy nights with cool air, but she wasn’t having any of it. Not yet. She doesn’t care what the calendar says or where your mind might be at – she was going to pump up the temperatures like it was July. Yet she did throw us a tantalizing preview, and as I drove through a rainy band of hurricane remnants, I felt the faint thrill of a fall chill last weekend in Boston.

With schedules that don’t quite seem to align, Kira and I haven’t been able to spend as much time as we usually do together, so this marked the first chance to see her in a couple of months, and the last (based on the filled calendar for the next two months). We made the most of it, starting with a late night meal at The Elephant Walk (Boston, you still go to sleep much too early for a Friday). The night felt like fall, and I’d neglected to look at anything other than the 80 degree sunny weather set for Saturday and Sunday. The sky was filled with moisture, as if we were caught in a cloud. Mist and rain swirled around us in the wind, making umbrellas useless (had we thought to bring one along). I embraced it. I will never complain about summer lingering, but I also love the first cozy jolt of fall. We had that, and after we made our way back through the seasonally-appropriate night, we brought out the sumptuous winter blanket to stave off the chill.

The best atmosphere for sleeping is a night of coolness with a wind whipping about to rustle the curtains a little. There was still enough warmth to leave the windows open but on this first day of fall the new season was poised to pounce.

That never happened. We awoke to a bright day. The early chill of the morning quickly dissipated, but not until we stopped for the first pho of the season. I’d only brought shorts, so I was ready for the bowl of spicy goodness. By the time we finished, the sun was out and the sky was blue. It felt like summer again. Downtown Crossing has come a long way in the past year or so, and new hotels and restaurants and simple sitting spaces were on beautiful display. We vowed to make it a prominent part of our Holiday Stroll this year, if we could ever find a time to do a Holiday Stroll. Life impedes on so much fun these days.

I’m rambling on, and running ahead like I usually do, and that’s not good. Fall has only just begun, and Mother Nature reminded me that she will not be rushed. The day turned hot and humid. It was the exact lesson I needed, and a perfect extension of a summer in which I didn’t get to spend much time in Boston. We embraced the heat, leisurely strolling to a late dinner at Aquitaine. (Their Saturday Boeuf Bourguignon special is divine – meat so tender it melts in your mouth after you slice through it with the dullest fork.) Walking back, we took our time, basking in the balmy weather. I paused a few times to stand beneath the shimmering leaves of trees that will be bare the next time we pass under them. There was a certain sadness to that, but the fullness of the moment was enough to see us through.

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Braddock Before the Rain

Given my job, I don’t often have the luxury and treat of being in Boston on a Wednesday morning to enjoy the street cleaning barrenness as depicted here, but this week I did. It’s a hazard for those unaware of the rules (they will ticket and tow in a heartbeat) but it keeps things neat and tidy, and affords the rare shot of a car-free side of the street.

On this day, I was showing my Manchester pal Andy around before his flight departed later that evening, and the day was humid and hot and threatening rain, but it held off until the very end. A day in Boston is a treasure indeed, and I’ll take them whenever I can get them.

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Bits of Beauty, Bits of Boston

The little things, those bright pockets of beauty that often go hidden, are what connect the bigger scenes to each other.

Here a bee beckons the viewer deeper into a garden.

There a lunch break of salmon eases the feet after a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Everywhere, beauty waits to bind the messy bits of life together, and somehow it always manages.

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Beauty, Now More Than Ever

The respite of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is always a balm upon the soul. We need more beauty in this world. The courtyard, though bright, is cool on these summer days. The dim environs of the surrounding rooms offer spiritual respite. Angels watch over the space, even if demons have infiltrated over the years. (Empty gold frames remind of which works were stolen in a still-unsolved crime back in 1990.) There are ghosts here, but they feel benign. Perhaps they were merely sleeping on the night of the robbery.

Four large tree ferns rise in the center court, framing the square space with delicate fronds of unfurling grace and elegance. Carpets of baby tears border the stone paths, and potted orchids nestle in every nook and cranny.

Art watches over all, standing sentinel in the absence of Ms. Gardner, whose will made it clear that nothing was to be touched or moved, so we have an idea of what it was actually like when she walked these beautiful floors. I stared out of windows and up at fantastical works and wondered what she did when she stopped to soak up the beauty at hand.

Through portals of stone and light and time, I peered into past and future alike. I was also able to inhabit the present moment – the most difficult trick of all for those of us who would rather be anywhere else than this moment in time. Here, it was all right. Surrounded by beauty, it was bearable.

A fountain gurgled its peaceful, bubbly melody in the background.

Palm trees, rubber plants, and philodendron soaked up the sun coming in from the skylight.

It was impossible not to smile at the world.

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Of Pride & Playing Ball ~ Part 2

This was our first night game since we started making these trips a couple of years ago. I think I liked it better than the ones during the day. The sky and descending sun made for a beautiful beginning, and with a bit of time to spend before the game, we ducked into the Verb Hotel and its Asian-inspired bar area.

I’d also wanted to try a dinner here, and we’ll do one next time because it’s a great spot, but on this night it was just cocktails. On a screen near the back, ‘The Karate Kid’ was playing – a bit of 80’s nostalgia to open up the childhood memory bank. Back then, I think I was hungry for friendship. And adventure. Three decades later, I realized I had found a bit of both. Skip explained how his Mr. Miyagi healing moves always calmed his kids when they thought they were hurt, and he rubbed his hands together to illustrate. Silly and sweet at once.

Earlier that day, in an unguarded moment of fear and celebration of the future, I’d said to Skip, “I hope we still do this when we’re 80.”

As the sun began to go down, Fenway Park was resplendent in the golden hour. A brilliant sky, filled with non-threatening clouds, hung before us, and the Prudential Center rose in the distance. A home away from home away from home.

And once again, the unstoppable march of time, clicking away as the light in the sky dimmed and the lights in the park came up. It was surreal, and the beer added to the experience, as it tends to do. I’m not a big beer drinker, but when in Rome…

All that beer necessitates a bathroom run at some point, and I wound my way down the stairs and into the surprisingly efficient facilities. Back in the bright light of the park, I tried to find my way back to our seats, but overshot them by a few rows. Somehow I missed half of our row standing up for me when I got back. A number of them were laughing – most notably Skip and myself – and the nice woman to my right smiled as I brushed by her and found my seat. I had just taken a bug gulp of beer when I looked over and found her still smiling, which for some reason cracked me up. I immediately did the sort of spit-take that I’ve only ever seen in stupid movies and sitcoms, spewing beer all over the four people in the row in front of us. That didn’t do much to quell my laughter, but the two guys who go the brunt of it were NOT amused. I apologized as best as I could, but no one liked that sort of thing. (Having been on the receiving end of such bad behavior, I know.) The young lady in the sleeveless shirt to my lower right was a much better sport about it, saying that we now had a story to tell people. I was mortified, but couldn’t stop laughing. And she was right, because here it is for internet posterity.

(Don’t they look fun?)

The Red Sox worked wonders on the field, handily defeating the Tigers 11-3, so perhaps we’re a good luck charm for them. Something their manager might want to consider should they make it into the World Series. (I’d prefer to sit in one of those glass boxes at some point in my life.) As for the denouement of our game day, we walked back toward the condo, picked up a couple of pieces of pizza, and called it a night. It was just enough, and exactly what was needed at such a time. Thanks to Skip, and Sherri, for making it all happen.

Hot diggety dog.

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Of Pride & Playing Ball ~ Part 1

My friend Skip and I made our third annual Boston Red Sox pilgrimage a couple of weekends ago, and before the memory fades let’s get some of it jotted down here. Time is funny in the way that it already feels so long ago, yet flashes of it ring as fresh as a pastry from Café Madeleine.

We made the wise decision to leave on a Friday, even if we hit a bit of weekend traffic. Last year we went wild on our first night, and it was a lesson learned. Skip was also a bit under the weather, so we kept things calm and quiet, with a return dinner to Boston Chops.

Yes, it’s rightly renowned for its steak, but the lobster isn’t bad either. Neither is the Negroni. It was enough to satiate our hunger and send us into dreamland. We had a big day of pride and baseball coming up…

The next morning dawned sunny and bright – we lucked out in the weather department – and after a quick stop at Café Madeleine for some croissant, we walked to Newbury Street for some shopping, then returned to the condo for some parade pre-gaming.

In the midst of one of my scintillating stories, Skip went silent. I thought he was simply enrapt with my words. More reverent silence. (I know how to tell a story.) I paused for some comment, some exhalation of ‘Wow’ or ‘Unreal’ – still nothing. I raced to the finish – but calmly – I didn’t want to give the guy a heart attack with the thrilling conclusion. I couldn’t see his face, since he was on the couch and I was in the front of the room, and as I waited for what would undoubtedly be a terrific reaction, I heard the slightest rumblings of a stunned response. Turns out he was just snoring. I walked over to the couch and this bitch was asleep.

Such is the deteriorating state of our wild Red Sox adventures. We’re getting older. Still, it was Pride weekend in Boston, and I woke Skip up to head out to his very first Pride Parade.

Hedwig was part of the festivities, a fitting throwback to the show we had just seen with Skip and Sherri a couple weeks ago. That too felt far away now, and part of me wanted to slow things down, to halt the spinning of the planet. I went quiet and tried to make a memory. Maybe that’s what I’m doing right now. Maybe that’s been the entire point of this blog. Maybe I just want to cling to these happy times because I know I’ll seek them out when the winter comes back.

We made it through a couple hours of the parade, then went back for a brief siesta before the game. In my younger years, I didn’t require such breaks, but these days they are mandatory. Besides, it’s always the in-between moments that matter. That’s where the charm of life resides. The big events are fun, and the impetus for so much of what we do, but it’s everything that happens before and after that makes them what they are.

Our mid-day respite done, we rallied ourselves for the night game against the Detroit Tigers. In retrospective honor of our opponents, we dined at Tiger Mama, just a couple of blocks from Fenway Park. As the restaurant filled, the excitement grew, and the buzz about the ballgame became an electric wave we would ride until the end of the evening…

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BoSox & Bros

Our third annual Boston Red Sox weekend is slated to kick-off this Friday, and though it’s one of the highlights of the season, I’m keeping expectations low, given this year’s penchant for rain and dampening of spirits. Instead of hyping it up, I’m going into it with the twin intents of relaxation and down-time. Skip and I have loosely plotted a soft entry for Friday, unlike last year when we went a bit too hard after the successful and relatively painless installation of a new air conditioner. It turns out that the Gay Pride Parade is Saturday, so we’ll do our best to save our energy for the second day. That night we’ll see the Red Sox do their best to wrangle the Detroit Tigers. In the battle of Detroit versus Boston, who shall prove victorious? We’ll find out…

Time with Skip is always somehow peaceful. We’re good sounding boards for each other when we need to be, but there’s an ease and a relaxed camaraderie in a friendship that’s lasted for a dozen years. There’s also a lot of fun and laughter, and I can indulge in the silliness and ridiculous straight-guy insanity that usually eludes me. Apologies for the GIF you are about to see, but it’s too funny not to share. Imagine this guy and me at a Gay Pride Parade. Boston isn’t ready for this jelly. (I’m not sure if I am either…)

 

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As the Peony Blooms: Anniversary Recap

This exquisite peony was an anniversary gift from our Mom, who left it at the condo along with a card and gift. She chose it based on the florist’s explanation that it slowly changed into a white color (which comprised my wedding bouquet that Suzie had found seven years ago). I was a little skeptical. I know flowers, and while some do change as their blooms age, most don’t have such a drastic draining of color – it’s usually more subtle, a slight fading or deepening depending on which way it’s going to go. This one surprised me, and its enchanting transformation was the touchstone of our wedding anniversary weekend. It also makes for an excellent marker of anniversary posts, so here you go again.

It began in quiet, beneath the rain. The rose pink hues were just beginning to unfurl their splendor when we arrived.

As we waited for the dinner hour, and the rain continued to come down, the flower opened up in the indoor light.

Its petals gradually transformed, going from a deep rose to a coral pink that was simply mesmerizing. As for our weekend, it progressed in equally-fine form.

The rain was slowing, subsiding and returning with just a few showery bursts, and we made it to The Cleaning of the Rings staying mostly dry. Inside, the peony smiled at the lifting of the gray.

The yellow pool sacs began to swell and develop, the fiery centerpiece that perfectly set off the surrounding beauty.

A magnificent work, it looked almost good enough to eat – almost as good as this amazing cake, the likes of which we hadn’t had since our wedding day.

The peony’s color began to fade, and like marriages and wine and other things that age well, its beauty became more pronounced and delicate.

Like the brush-strokes of a fine painter, the colors took on a surreal gorgeousness, softly developing into more than the sum of their parts.

The yellow interior glowed, while the pinky rosiness moved into a softer shade of light coral, and beyond.

It was becoming before our very eyes – more beautiful, more enchanting, more lovely.

This is how beauty sometimes unfolds – the bold and brash beginning, then the gradual fading into something softer, but more lasting.

We didn’t want it to end. That’s the way it usually is with beauty. And love.

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 9

We remained on the bench soaking in the scene for a little while. We still had a few minutes until brunch at Bistro du midi (whose tables overlooked the Public Garden) and neither of us wanted to rush away from a scene so perfectly reminiscent of our original wedding day. To our left, a path led to the Taj Hotel and the grand suite we were lucky enough to have lived in for that special weekend. (For our ten year anniversary we may have to recreate such luxury, and 2020 isn’t that far off…)

Ahead of us, the foot bridge connected both sides of the small pond. Sweetly-scented fruit trees bloomed on each side, and the bridge seemed to float on clouds of beauty. What a difference a day makes, though there had been beauty in the rain too.

After brunch we walked along Boylston Street, with Andy indulging a few quick shopping stops, before making our way back along the Southwest Corridor walkway. It was also in bloom – the bright white of the native American dogwood, with its enchanting “blooms” resting elegantly against leafless bark, and the deep purple of a hybrid lilac, just finishing up its season. Frittilaria nodded its widely varying flowers, and a few tulips opened wide for the sun. Everything was starting over again.

Back at the condo, we packed everything up for the ride home, including our anniversary peony.

I didn’t want to leave, but we did, with the memory of a perfect weekend in our pockets.

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 8

Our actual wedding anniversary dawned as it did seven years ago: a brilliant blue sky, a few puffy clouds, and something that had been missing most of this anniversary weekend – the sun! A strong breeze shook off the dampness of the previous days, and we headed out for a brunch. On the way, the Boston Public Garden was resplendent in the sunshine, and we meandered through its beauty to the sounds of an erhu.

The pale pink petals of flowering cherries fluttered in the breeze. We sat on a bench near the trio of cherry trees next to which our wedding ceremony had taken place. In the pond nearby, a family of ducks swam. Three small ducklings made their way in the water. One of the adults was teaching them how to take off, and the little ones mimicked the quick flapping of wings and made small motions into the air right above the water. It was thrilling to see.

There was not a more perfect place to have a wedding, if one was lucky enough to get a day like this. The edge of the pond was covered with cherry blossom petals, and more ducks floated in the water. A few dogs and children watched the scene with keenly-interested eyes. In the distance, the swan’s head bobbed in and out of the water – half of the time its graceful neck curved elegantly above the water, the other half saw its rump rising skyward. This was happiness.

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 7

The show was amazing – perhaps even more powerful than its original Broadway inception, which is no easy feat. By all means get your tickets now and go. When we emerged from the theater, the sun was out, and just about to go down. The breeze had turned cooler, and as dinner wasn’t scheduled for a while, we ducked into the newly-redone Aquitaine and sidled up to the handsome bar.

The friendly gentlemen who was welcoming guests ordered us two short champagne glasses in honor of our anniversary, in one smooth, dapper motion, and we toasted a day that was turning into one very happy affair. A happily tipsy affair too, as I followed it up with a sidecar. When the weather teeters between cool and cold, and a spring snap tugs us closer to winter than summer, I love a stomach-warming sidecar, with the heat of its cognac, and the reassuring zest of its citrus kiss. We had them at the Taj on the night of our rehearsal dinner, and I save them for special occasions like this so as to preserve their meaning.

It was the day of the Kentucky Derby, and women in fascinators and men in bow ties prowled the beautiful space. We said our thanks to the gentleman who was kind enough to offer champagne, and headed over to Boston Chops, where more fascinators and boat hats awaited us.

In the dim light of an intimate table, we clinked glasses before our perfectly-rendered steaks arrived. On this Boston night, the world felt like a magical, sparkling dream of carefree fancy and elegant delight. I realigned the beaded bracelets on my wrist, adjusted the sequin-embroidered edge of a scarf, and gave up silent gratitude to our good fortune.

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 6

After our wedding ceremony seven years ago, our dear family friend Elaine took us out to the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons for a wedding lunch. The meal was divine (they are known for some impeccable burgers) but what took it into stratospheric heights was a sky-high/mile-high/heaven-high chocolate cake. It was a multi-layered decadent experience that must have required its own course for how to slice it – so high did it rise. It was more than enough to feed every member of our party.

Ever since that moment, when we each took a piece of this decadent chocolate goodness, we’ve been seeking out such sweet salvation, but everything has proven elusively out of reach. Andy has come close a couple of times, but nothing could match the towering magnificence of that cake. It has remained a delicious memory all this time.

For our anniversary lunch, I settled in for an oceanic-slanted treat, beginning with the raw oysters you see here, and following it up with a lovely lobster roll (and truffle parmesan fries). We were slated to have a meaty dinner at Boston Chops later that evening, so I stayed seaside for my selection. Andy went with a spicy chicken offering for his choice. We looked out over Boylston to the Boston Public Garden. The rain had started up again, and our timing worked out perfectly. Not so much for the couple that was also trying to get married. Their party stood huddled beneath a makeshift white tent. (I will always be grateful for the beautiful day we were lucky enough to have had.)

As we were putting aside our napkins, our server appeared with the towering delight you see here. Someone had gotten wind of how much we had enjoyed this cake the first time around, and had been good enough to send out a new one for our anniversary. The Four Seasons has some fiercely impressive customer service, and I have to put out this public note of thanks and gratitude for such gracious and thoughtful gift. (I also sent them a traditional hand-written thank-you note because that’s my style, and it was the least I could do for such a wonderful treat.) We are not worthy, but we will spread word of this goodness as far and wide as we can.

It was a highlight of our wedding weekend, and it was a highlight of our 7th anniversary. Boston has always made us feel loved.

Our stomachs more than satiated, we walked back to the condo to prepare for our evening: an early showing of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, followed by cocktails in the South End, then dinner at Boston Chops. The perfect Saturday plan…

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 5

It swam from the other side of the pond. A trio of ducks was swimming in the other direction, leaving perfect lines of water like three fighter jets, but the swan crossed them without a fluttering of its pristine wings. We stood beneath the shelter where lines usually waited to board the swan boats. They weren’t running today due to the inclement weather.

The swan approached, its majesty and magnificence in full regal effect. These are gorgeous creatures, but can be dangerous too. A swift blow from one of their awesome wings has been known to break human bones.

Andy watched intently as a foolish family stood by the pond’s edge feeding it. A little boy held out his hand, but the swan did not nip. I was more afraid for what Andy would do than I was what the swan might do (and he later confirmed my suspicion saying he would have had to go in after the kid if the swan grabbed for food and ended up pulling the boy in). According to Andy, parents tended to freeze in such moments.

We watched the swan take the proffered snacks unhurriedly and without timidity or trepidation. I herded us along before the temptation to rescue anyone became too strong, because if Andy went in after someone, I would have to go in after Andy.

The swan swam away as we headed in the direction of the Four Seasons, a usual lunch haunt that had special meaning…

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 4

I returned to the condo to pick Andy up, and check on the progress of the peony, and by the time we were ready to head out for the annual Cleaning of the Rings, the rain had lifted a little more. It’s been our tradition at this time of the year to have our wedding rings cleaned at the establishment where we purchased them: Shreve, Crump & Low. (It also affords Andy a peek at some dream time pieces that start at about the price of a Boston bathroom renovation.)

Our umbrellas went up and down a couple of times, as the day was still undecided as to what it was going to do. Our shoes were ill-equipped for such dampness, but we soldiered through, and soon we were back in the lobby of the Taj Hotel, where we spent our wedding weekend seven years ago.

Whenever I’m in the area, I’ll poke my head into the Taj, and when Andy is around he’ll do the same. On this morning, it was very pink, but missing the peonies that so splendidly filled the lobby on the original weekend. It was still pretty enough, with loads of cherry blossoms and vibrant hydrangeas to make up for the peonies’ late start.

We crossed the street into the Boston Public Garden, and were promptly greeted by one of our wild friends there. He seemed especially keen on cozying up to Andy, who indulged in some chit-chat and Instagram photos.

Strolling through the garden, we approached the footbridge, near the spot where the swan boats anchored. We ducked into the little shelter there and waited out another wave of rain. A swan approached from across the pond…

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