Burlington, Vermont

We visited Burlington, Vermont on the coldest days of the winter. And from what we’ve heard those cold temperatures were rare even for Vermont standards. It was like we hit the lottery of the coldest days. Yay. Despite the chill, we managed to survive and enjoy ourselves in this town on the shores of Lake Champlain.

We drove north on Wednesday, the first day of the year (Happy New Year!), and we made it to Burlington in four hours. We kept the driving speed low, and we had to stop a couple of times to clear the windshield, as the Golf’s washer nozzles weren’t working–they were either frozen, or the pump had died. The mountains we were driving through were covered with snow. The sky was pale blue with interesting cloud formations. And it was cold, about -1F by the time we reached Burlington.

H. had kept the place we were staying a surprise for me; he kept saying that it was sort of a Motel 7, as in “a slightly better version of a Motel 6”. Of course he was joking, as he has excellent taste (I mean, seriously, look who he is dating *cough, cough*), and he booked us a room at this amazing bed and breakfast called Made Inn Vermont (okay, the name is not that amazing, but anyway…). The place was beautifully decorated in a whimsical way, free of floral patterns and other decor associated with your typical inn. Our room was pretty big, and it featured a record player with a decent record collection, a guitar and a ukulele, books, a black wall where you could create your own chalk art and LED lights around the bed.

We spent a little bit of time at the inn, there were so many cool things to see and explore. Everything was tastefully put together. I really liked the art on the walls, made by the owner’s daughter: acrylic/ink drawings with a screen over them which gave them a ghostly character, same with the monochrome grey/black framed rectangulars along the hallway by the staircase. Slightly spooky and dark. The common sitting room downstairs was beautiful and it was connected to the breakfast area. Linda, the owner (who by the way also decorated the inn) offered us sangria, Heady Toppers and other snacks, which was nice.

We braved the -1F, feels like -19F temperatures and walked the couple of blocks to Church Street, a pedestrian way lined with stores and restaurants. Since it was New Year’s Day most places were closed. But we did check out the record store, the book store and another store selling all things Vermont. We had tea at Dobra Tea (I had the excellent herbal tea made from local herbs). We then went to dinner at Leunig’s, a French bistro and had an amazing meal. We drank some Glug, their warm holiday punch, which was perfect for the cold weather. I had the salmon with the roasted beet risotto, and H. had the macadamia and yuzo crusted mahi mahi. Both were delicious, and when H. asked the waitress for the recipe for the mahi mahi, she responded with a curt “we don’t give out our recipes”. Oh, well. Leunig’s was one of the dining recommendations from my friend Ryan who grew up in Burlington, so thanks Ryan.

Walking back to the inn in the cold was not pleasant. I was alright overall, but it was difficult to breathe in the cold air. And despite the two pairs of socks and tights, my toes were numb by the time we reached the inn. Our room was warm and cozy, and we chilled out listening to records, despite the owner’s repeated reminder about the available HBO on our TV (I don’t watch TV when I’m home, I am definitely not going to watch TV when I am on vacation).

The second day in Burlington was even colder than the first. Everything outside looked frozen. We had a delicious breakfast to fortify us for the day. We wanted to explore around despite the -11F, feels like -32F temperature. The original plan was to go skiing, but we wouldn’t enjoy it in this chill. We drove to Shelburne Bay Park, and walked for a little bit around in the woods, but it was impossible to stay outside in the brutal wind for longer than 10 minutes.  I sort of liked the look of the frozen bay, looking desolate and devoid of any sound.

We went to Shelburne Farms and our visit was limited to the store, where we sampled cheeses, jams and mustard. I bought the clothbound cheddar and the smoked cheddar, as well as a delicious strawberry rhubarb jam, a spicy honey mustard and maple syrup, all locally produced at the farm. Then we checked out the Shelburne Museum, where only one gallery was open. Since we were the only guests the guide graciously gave us a tour and talked about the exhibits, which included old signs, carriages, doll houses, toys and paintings. The most interesting thing to me was the pentimento effect on one of Browere’s paintings about the adventures of Rip van Winkle: you can see the faded form of the girl behind the dog, pretty neat.

And then it was beer tasting time! Our first stop was Fiddlehead Beer Company, a small and new brewery, where we tasted their three beers, the AltBier, and their two IPAs. Although I am not a big fan of IPAs, especially in the winter, I liked all their beers, and bought some AltBier for myself. After that we headed to Magic Hat, which of course is a much larger brewing company. We took the tour and then tasted some of their beers.  There were a couple of more breweries along the way we could have stopped at, but we were pretty tired. For dinner we went to Trattoria Delia, yes, exactly, an Italian restaurant, that had a beautiful fireplace, and stone and wood interior. By the end of the day I felt like I had gained ten pounds, as we were seemingly eating and drinking the whole day. But then again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Thus concluded our second day in Vermont, which also happened to be my birthday. Nice to know I can handle extremely cold temperatures, although being from the Mediterranean I am certainly not designed for them.

And just like that the next day came and it was time to head home. Another good breakfast at the inn, another bloody cold day outside. We drove along Lake Champlain, where we witnessed the pretty neat effect of steaming fog. A little bit more driving around Burlington and the University of Vermont. Then we hit the I-89 south, and that was it, so long Burlington, Vermont. You are beautiful and interesting. We shall be back, some time in the Spring or the Summer when everything around us will be green instead of frozen, and when we can stay outdoors for longer than ten minutes at a time. Au revoir.

(See here for more photos from my trip to Vermont.)

2012 Year In Review

Here we are on the last day of 2012. A year that went by fast, and looking back, it was a mix of good and bad. Now is the time I am looking through my notes to see what happened in the year expiring soon. Here’s a summary of what fun things I did, what I liked and didn’t like, and the notable things that happened in my life in 2012:

Movies: I counted them all, in 2012 I watched 83 movies, that is an average of 1.6 movies per week. During the Independent Film Festival of Boston I would see up to three movies a day, but generally I go to the movies at least once a week. It turns out this year I saw plenty of classic and old movies at the Brattle, and finally did the wise thing and acquired a Brattle membership, which saves me some money. The movies I liked best this year were ‘The Kid With A Bike’, the Belgian movie by the Dardenne brothers; ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ a documentary about the Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono; Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’; the offbeat, different ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’; the heart breaking ‘Take This Waltz’; the tough and incredibly moving ‘Oslo, August 31st’; the touching ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’; and the fascinating documentary ‘The Imposter’. A quick note to mention ‘Lincoln’ for the superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ for the visual beauty. I also liked a lot Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. The movie that creeped me out the most, made me feel extremely uncomfortable and wish I had not seen was Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In”. Oh, and I am not seeing ‘Les Miserables’ because I absolutely hate musicals.

Music: I went to 18 live shows this year. Some shows stood out, like the Radiohead show, the Mogwai show, which finally happened after two prior cancellations, and the Saint Etienne show at the Paradise, where everyone was dancing happily away. I saw the most interesting lighting and staging at the Grizzly Bear show at the Orpheum. The worst show? The Jesus and Mary Chain, no contest. The Paradise still remains the best venue in the area to see live music. I just wish it was located somewhere in Camberville. I can’t say there was a band or album this year I adored, but I did listen to some music I liked a lot, like Tanlines, Alt-J, Beach House, Lower Dens and Beach Fossils. After seeing Frank Ocean and the Dirty Projectors making everyone’s best music of the year list, I tried to listened to them, but I find them unbearable. Frank Ocean’s music is plainly boring, and the Dirty Projectors singer sounds like your friend who keeps singing along to every song he hears, and he is always off-key.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this but my favorite song this year was Japandroid’s ‘The House That Heaven Built’. Yeah.

 

Theater: Not too much theater in my life this year. I mostly went to plays my friend TMB was in, like ‘Measure For Measure’, ‘Waiting For Lefty’ and ‘Anne of the Green Gables’. I also saw an interesting production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea, and David Adjmi’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ at the ART, a play I found was trying too hard to be witty.

Art: I visited the ICA and the MFA a couple of times each. I liked the exhibition Degas and the Nude the best, because I really, really like drawings. Really. Also at the ICA I saw Sam Green’s live documentary ‘The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller’ with live music by Yo La Tengo. And I love Yo La Tengo.

Food, Drink: I liked Casa B in Union Square in Somerville, a space with unique and pretty cool interior design and delicious tapas. I finally made it to Santarpio’s where I discovered the best pizza in town. I also liked Strip T’s in Watertown, West Bridge, and Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square. I was impressed by the food at the Garden at the Cellar, which might be Cambridge’s best kept secret. The food is amazing, how come I didn’t know? I also paid many visits to iYo the new frozen yogurt place in Davis Square. The square will soon be fro-yo central, as a second fro-yo place opened, and there are plans for a third. I had some very good cocktails at Stoddard’s downtown, and at Brick & Mortar in Central Square.

Travel: Nothing extraordinary travel-wise. I spent three lovely days in Provincetown, I love this happy and laid back place, and the amazing beaches. Speaking of beaches, I discovered Duxbury beach this year (the best beach area is south of the bridge), pretty much one of the best beaches around Boston (sorry, North Shore beaches, no comparison, really). I went to Greece for a couple of weeks to see family and friends, eat well and swim in the Mediterranean, and that’s always pretty neat and relaxing. I also visited my brother and his family in Germany. I finally got to meet my nephew, who is a very cute baby, and got to see my niece again, who is a very cute toddler.

Exercise: In the beginning of 2012 I found myself ten pounds overweight, and ten pounds is a lot for a person of my size. I had a hard time shedding off the extra pounds just by eating less. So, I started eating less and exercising more,  the magic combination that always works. After hating running for as long as I remember, this year I followed a 5k training program, and after eight weeks I was pleasantly surprised to see I could comfortably run 3 miles. I participated in my first 5k race in December, and completed the race in 28 minutes. I also started taking tennis classes, and I loved it. I can’t wait to start new classes again. I biked a lot, as usual, and I took a bicycle repair class at the Broadway Bicycle School.

A couple of other notable things from 2012: I refinanced my mortgage and once again discovered how inept the people who work in this business are. After twelve years of living here I finally decided to apply for citizenship, and became citizen on September 11. I voted for the first time, and was happy with the results. I got to meet Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts, so now I have met both Senators from MA in person. Oh, and being a citizen means I can now run for office, but don’t worry, I don’t plan to.

In 2012 I experienced some disappointments, but no reason to talk about that now. I do not have any major new year’s resolutions, but I will definitely try to do certain things different: I will try to visit places I haven’t been to before. I would love to have someone willing and able to travel with me, but I am also willing to travel by myself. I will try to read more, and after many years I have cancelled my New Yorker subscription in order to free up time to read the untouched books in my bookcase. I will try to get back to creative things I used to like, like drawing.

Above all, in 2013 I will do my best to find time for all the small and big things that make happy. Happy New Year.

Disconnection / Connection

I spent the past weekend in New York City. I walked a lot around the city, which resulted in bruised calves and a sore Achilles tendon. While the body got tired, the eye got full of new and familiar images, and I felt surrounded by that special NYC vibe that I have become to love.

On Sunday, my last day there, I went to Staten Island. I took the Staten Island ferry from the Whitehall terminal in lower Manhattan. The ferry is free and quite big, it holds up to 4,450 passengers. It offers nice views of downtown and lower Manhattan, as well as the Statue of Liberty, all lovely. When we arrived at Staten Island, I got off the ferry and walked along the path by the water, and came to a memorial. It turned out it was Postcards, Staten Island’s 9/11 Memorial, honoring its residents who died that day. The vertical stones look like envelopes, and on the inside you could see the names of the honored. It was a bright, sunny day, the blue sky was decorated with white puffy clouds, and there was a nice breeze. The flags made nice contrast with the blue sky as they were blowing in the breeze. I kept walking until I reached the end of the path, and then decided to go back towards the terminal.

When I came to the Memorial again, I saw there were four or five people around. There are many benches around there, so I decided to sit for a little while and rest my tortured feet. I sat on one of the stone benches. I sat on one half of the bench, not exactly in the middle. All other benches were empty. A minute later a woman came and sat next to me. It was somewhat awkward, since she had to sit close to me to fit on the bench. And, of course, it was quite strange, since there were so many other benches around, empty. There was even an empty one right next to mine. I had the urge to stand up and go sit somewhere else. I kept thinking “seriously, lady, there are like 10 other empty benches around, and you come and sit right next to me? Why?”. Under normal conditions I would sigh, look at her irritated, and go sit somewhere else. But at that point, I was very tired, both emotionally and  physically, so I just sat there. I didn’t move. I tried to be less annoyed. I looked out to the water, while wishing she wouldn’t talk to me, as I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I was enjoying the silence.

The precious silence was broken, when the woman started humming. My first reaction was disbelief, “Seriously?”, I thought to myself. “What is next?” Everything was getting annoying again. Then a little bit later, I realized her humming was not irritating me. It was actually soothing. I did not recognize the tune, if any, but it was agreeable. It was like my private soundtrack for a beautiful day at the Postcards memorial on Staten Island. I went along, I was willing to accept what was happening. It was all slightly absurd, but it turned out pleasant.

A couple of minutes later a man came over, and started talking to the woman. In French. I do not know if it was Canadian French or French, I cannot tell the difference in the accent. They both looked like tourists, cameras hanging from their necks. They looked to be in their mid 50s. The man asked a question. As I do not speak French, I didn’t understand what he had asked. The woman ignored him and kept humming. A minute later the man asked something again, and the woman gave an abrupt answer, or at least that’s how it sounded. Then the man lodged himself on our bench, putting the woman in the middle between him and me. I’m sure we looked absurdly entertaining: at least ten benches around us empty, and we three people sitting on one bench, looking cramped. I was occupying one half of the bench, and they, the other half. I made a slight move, one inch to my right to give them more room. The dialogue between them consisted of short sentences, then silence. Three minutes later they left.  “Well, that was weird”, I thought to myself. I was glad I had the bench back to myself.

I looked at the path, and there was a woman pushing a stroller talking on her cellphone coming towards my direction. There was a little black poodle with a tennis ball in his mouth walking along with her. The dog came right up to me, and placed his tennis ball right next to my foot. I had my legs somewhat stretched out in front of me, so that my legs, the ground and the vertical surface of the bench were forming a triangle. The dog wedged itself in that triangle under my legs. He was moving his little body pressing against my legs, while wagging his tail. Was he asking to be petted? I didn’t pet him. I smiled. The woman called the dog, and in an instant he was gone.

I found both incidents slightly strange. A woman and a dog demonstrating something that looked like a need to be close to me, to be around me. I felt like some sort of magnet in that peculiar quiet setting. What had attracted them to me? Earlier someone had commented on my unwillingness to touch and be close. Did I look lonely? Did I send out come-close-to-me signals? I felt quite the opposite, I felt like I wanted to be on my own, alone and think. Perhaps I looked sad, because I felt sad.

There is a sense of irony in having strangers briefly cancel the alienation from people I was feeling that day. An abbreviated connection took place. For an instant it felt like a random woman and a random dog wanted to reassure me that there would always be someone around, I would not be alone. It was good to know.

My New York City Weekend

I visited New York City for the weekend. I really dig NYC, but I hadn’t visited since June, so it was about time. I took the bus, which overall was not an unpleasant experience. I went to the MoMA on Friday, which is now a NYC tradition for me, to go there Fridays after 4:30pm only, when admission is free. You can call me cheap. I saw a special exhibition on modern drawing and hated most of it, because I can’t really appreciate art that looks like it was done in five minutes by a five-year old. I love drawing, and I hope crappy art does not make me hate it. Nice try, though. I ate roasted chestnuts. I love roasted chestnuts and I haven’t been able to find them anywhere in Boston. Why not, Boston?

I went to Brooklyn. Specifically, I went to Red Hook at night looking for a club, walking under elevated railroad tracks in a seedy industrial area. The Muffs played live there. I observed higher concentration of hipsters than in Manhattan. Red Hook smelled like death. After the show I walked towards the opposite direction I came from, only to find out that in Brooklyn people like shovelling their houses’ front steps half, or not at all. A couple of girls asked “where’s a shop around here?” A shop. I said I didn’t know. I didn’t bother to ask what kind of shop.

I stayed at a hotel on Murray Hill, and my room was gigantic for NYC standards. It was on the 32nd floor, with a pretty nice view. There was even a kitchen in the room, which I didn’t use. I mean, I don’t even use the kitchen in my condo, why bother now. The hotel porter was creepy, looked like he was in the wrong decade, an escapee from the ’30s. He was wearing a long black jacket and a fedora, and kept another set of them on a chair in the lobby. I’m pretty sure he “knows people”. I saw many other people wearing weird clothes. I also saw many weird-looking people.

People in NYC say “dawg” instead of “dog” and “stawrs” instead of “stars”. And if you are in a store waiting to pay for something, they say “next on line, please” instead of “next in line, please”. They’re funny like that, but I’m guessing I’m even funnier.

I went to the American Museum of Natural History for the first time. I liked the section in biodiversity and the underwater creatures. Whales, dolphins, fishes, squids. And yes, I saw the squid and the whale. I especially liked the bioluminescence section, featuring fish that looked like were having an S&M party, and a jelly fish that flashed different colors and looked like it could easily have been used as night club lighting. Bioluminescence stands for party.

I walked through  snowed Central Park, it was beautiful. I then went to the Metropolitan Museum. It had been a while since my last visit there, it was nice to see a couple of lovely El Greco’s and the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand photo exhibition, among others. I overdosed on culture, you can tell.

I went to Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. The ladies to guys ratio in Hoboken is one to four. I saw the Muffs again. I saw an “Oral and maxillofacial surgery” sign at a doctor’s office. I had no idea what maxillofacial is, but it certainly sounded grand. And scary.

I took the subway a lot. Most of the stations look like they’re falling apart, but at least the trains were running smoothly. Unless it’s a Saturday and you’re waiting for a train that doesn’t run on weekends; and just like Boston, there’s no sign to inform you of that. It’s that moment that you feel like an outsider: everybody is in the know, except you. I saw puke by a public telephone. I’m amazed, but also glad that there are still public telephones around, for those who use them, like drunk people ready to puke. I saw a giant rat on a subway platform taking his good old-time walking among people, towards his subject of desire, a trash can. He was a cool one. I witnessed an argument between two teenager cousins. One loudly demanded “respect” because his attire was more expensive than the other’s. The other didn’t seem to care that much, although he looked slightly embarrassed. I somehow got involved in their argument, and the loud one told me “Miss, look at my shoes,they cost $250, his cost $60, hahaha only $60! Look at him, I will give him my hat to go beg for money. I bought him his jacket. And look at my watch, look at the diamonds!” “Wow, are they real?” I asked. “Yes, of course they’re real, this watch is $400!”. Well, that settles everything then. I didn’t really understand if I was being asked to judge their looks, or their styles. I told them they both looked fine and cool. I should have added “respectful”. But what I really wanted to say was “Hey kid, pull your pants up, you’re wearing them low, below your butt and I can see your underwear.”

I walked around Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It was very white, so much pure snow covering everything. Oh, yes, I forgot the occasional yellow and brown snow. It was pretty nice. Then I visited the Brooklyn Museum for the first time. I’m not sure how this museum is organised, but it is certainly not organised by era. That was a little confusing, but interesting museum overall.

I ate and drank a lot. I walked a lot. I walked in the slush a lot. I walked on snow a lot. I got excited whenever I saw a Duane Reade, a pharmacy where you can buy aspirin, beer and sushi. Oh, yeah, and I saw a bar named “Dive Bar” somewhere uptown. I should check it out next time, I can’t wait to “tawk” to the regulars.

Spectacular Spectacle Island

This year Labor Day was a glorious early September day. Warm and sunny, a perfect day to enjoy the outdoors. It had been a couple of years since I last visited any of the Boston Harbor Islands (map), so I decided it was a good day to visit Spectacle Island for the day, an island I hadn’t been on before.

I checked the ferry schedule and it looked like I could also visit Georges Island on the same day. When you buy a ticket, you have to specify the return ferry too, so I had to make sure I had enough time to walk around Georges, then take the ferry to Spectacle and explore the island. A round-trip ticket costs $14. I took the ferry from Long Wharf and after a smooth 25-minute ferry ride we arrived at Georges Island. I had been on this island before, but I always find it pleasant to walk around Fort Warren (photos here & here), a pentagonal fort built in 1850. It was built to defend Boston and you can still see some of the cannons remnants of the black powder era. Walking inside the stone and granite structure I could feel immediate cooling. I wondered if  I was sensing the  presence of the Lady in Black, the fort ghost.  Perhaps. I also walked on top of the walls and enjoyed a pretty view of the harbor and the Boston skyline. After an hour or so I went down the pier again to wait for the small ferry (it’s more like a 70-passenger water taxi) that runs between Georges and Spectacle Island for free. I like how they have these Adirondack chairs at the pier, where you can just sit there and enjoy the view.

The ferry ride to Spectacle was about 30 minutes, but I wouldn’t complain if it was longer. It was a beautiful day to be on a boat, and quite nice to go by other harbor islands, like Moon Island and Long Island. Many people were out sailing that day; they couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Spectacle Island is closer to Boston than Georges and offers a more dramatic view of the Boston skyline. Approaching by the boat it looked very green and very… new. The marina is newly constructed, and the park and visitors’ center opened just about four years ago. There is also a life-guarded sandy beach and quite few people were enjoying it, although I didn’t see anybody swimming that day.  The “green” visitors center is powered by solar panels, and has composting, no flow toilets (pretty interesting experience for me, to say the least.) The center has plenty information about the history and present of the island. But the best way to get to know the island is to take the tours that DCR park rangers give. I took the tour, which took us along the trail around the south drumlin, and learnt a lot about the history and evolution of the island from a very enthusiastic park ranger.

Spectacle Island is comprised of the south and north drumlins, that is hills of glacial drift. The drumlins looks like spectacles, hence the name British settlers gave to the island. Archaeologists believe that Native Americans fishermen were using the island since 8,000 back. Spectacle Island used to be farmland and later a quarantine hospital was there. In the 1800s they used to bring the dead horses on the island and use their tail hair to make brushes and bows for string instruments, the horsehide leather and horsehooves to make glue (actually there was a glue factory on the island.) Later in the 1910s they started using it as a landfill, and one can only imagine the stench that would emanate from a landfill / dead horse disposal facility combination.

The landfill closed in the 1960s and the island was abandoned. The most spectacular thing that would happen for the next 30 years would be fires due to the high methane levels. Toxic material would leach into the harbor. During the 1990s when much effort was devoted to cleanup the Boston Harbor, it was decided that something had to be done about the island. And the answer was: transformation. The landfill was capped, meaning they built barriers around it, so that no toxic pollutants would leach into the sea. During the same time excavated dirt, gravel and clay from the Central Artery/Tunnel project (the Big Dig) was deposited above the capped landfill, at points 30 feet deep, in essence enlarging and reshaping the island. A two-foot deep clay cap was laid on top of that: this impervious layer keeps water from entering the landfill and carrying toxins in the sea. On top of that they placed topsoil containing biosolids compost 2 to 4 feet deep.

Finally they were able to plant trees with shallow root system, as well as shrubs and meadow grasses. During our tour around the south drumlin, the park ranger was pointing out different kinds of flowers and trees. It was interesting to see how amazing some of them smelled when you would rub them between your hands, that some of them are edible and that some of them you can use them to make a tea-like drink. DCR is also conducting monitoring of the different species and record the different changes in foliage, to see how global warming has impacted the plants’ cycle. They have also planted beach grass in the sand dunes. And then there’s interesting fauna. The ranger pointed out species of birds and we saw monarch butterflies. During the tour he would also point out other interesting facts, like the seawall that was built around the island to prevent erosion, the monitoring wells for the landfill, as well as the poles with a spinning hood top that are vents for the trapped methane gas in the landfill. I also noticed swayles and catch basins indicative of a stormwater management system, yet another eco-friendly approach.

When the one-hour guided walk was over, I felt excited with all the new-found knowledge. I had no idea that this island had such an interesting history and such an interesting transformation. Everything is very green and very peaceful. You are only 20 minutes away from Boston, yet you feel that you are further removed from the city. I walked around the north drumlin and reached the top, that is the highest point in the Boston Harbor. It offers spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and the Boston skyline. When I stood there at the top I thought how cool it was that I was standing on top of a capped landfill, 30 feet of Big Dig dirt and topsoil containing biosolids compost! (I should note that the biosolids come from a local source, courtesy of the Deer Island sewage treatment plant.)

In the case of Spectacle Island the state has done a pretty good job. They have incorporated many environmentally sustainable practices when they developed and built the park. They have also completed an amazing habitat restoration. The DCR-run park offers many educational opportunities and the enthusiasm of the staff is contagious. I was pretty happy I discovered this gem and plan on going back again.

You see some of the photos I took that day here.

The Night Was Hot

My Greek vacation is over. It was exactly as I wanted it to be and splendidly so. I got to rest, and for two weeks I was living a lazy life without having to worry about anything. It might sound lazy , but lazy was what I was aiming for. My routine was to wake up late in the morning, more like noon actually, have breakfast, read for a couple of hours, go to the beach to swim, sunbathe and read for 5 hours, then go back home, take a shower, eat a fantastic meal cooked with care and love by my mother, fall into food coma, come out of the coma, go out and drink, then go to bed and sleep a deep sleep for twelve hours. I would call this dream summer life.

One night I drove to the other side of the peninsula half an hour drive away to see a couple of friends. It was a hot night, the air still with no breeze, even at the beach bar we were at. I was talking with my very good friend and her husband, and then another friend came over. I hadn’t seen him in ten years, he very much looked the same. We were all sweating profusely in the intense heat, but he was the only one whose skin was completely dry. We immediately decided it was something wrong with him, though secretly wishing we suffered from the same condition, at least for that hot humid night. After some time a couple that my friend knew came to the bar and she introduced me as the girl who now lives permanently in Boston and have deserted her (we used to be very good friends before I left Greece for good.) Then the guy told me that he lived in Boston in the mid 90s and he went to Emerson. He lived on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay, and then he started asking me about the bars he used to hang out at, and unfortunately most of them are now closed (or most likely now operate under a different name.) That was interesting. Small world I thought, I am 4,000 miles away from Boston and I’m talking about it with somebody who knows the city well. I could sense some kind of nostalgia in his words (maybe it was because he was reminded of his carefree college years), together with a little bit of regret, as he never got to visit Boston again.

We were drinking our mojitos and  gin and tonics, and at some point the barmaid started pouring us shots of tequila. The truth is I am afraid of tequila. The worst drinking and hangover of my life happened because of tequila shots (after several hours of drinking other things, to be sure,) but I always associate tequila with a two-day recovery to sobriety. But I managed OK with that one shot. And then it was another. And then another. And then we were reminiscent of that summer of 1999 when our drink of choice was Sandeman port with… ice. I know, I know we were effectively destroying the port wine, but it tasted good like that. And it was sweet and we could drink a lot and only after hours would we realize how drunk we had got. So somebody ordered a round of port shots. Great. And I think it all ended with a round of Jack Daniels shots, but I wouldn’t know for sure.

It was great to chat and catch up with friends. I wondered what time it was. I looked at my watch, it was 2 am. Time to get going, I said, I had to drive back to my place. They suggested I would crash at their place “Are you sure you’re OK to go through the mountain?” “I’m fine,” I insisted and off I went. I was feeling good, a little bit too happy and smiling a lot, but pretty good overall. I took the left turn and started ascending the mountain. It was pitch dark. Two o’clock in the morning and no other cars were coming or going. The road was not wide enough for two proper lanes, so I constantly had to pay attention to see if anyone is coming the other direction to make sure I pulled all the way to the side.

It was just me, though, alone driving on the mountain. There was the moon in the sky, but it was muted, clouds covering most of its face. I opened the window to get some breeze going on. The car I was driving was a 15-year old Fiat, with manual transmission and no air-condition. I turned the radio off and I could hear the sweet sound of the engine. The car handled the hairpin turns well. I managed well, too, with the constant downshifting and upshifting, RPMs rising and falling. Since I was the only one on the road I decided to go faster. It felt good, the road all mine, I was the driving queen of the mountain. I had driven this road so many times, yet it was still exciting.

For a second I took my eyes off the road and slowed down a little bit. I looked to my left. Dark black mountain peaks were silhouetted against the dark sky. Tree tops, outcrops I could not really tell. As I was driving by, it looked like the terrain was undulating around me.  How long have these mountains been around, I wondered. They looked stoic, they looked wise, for a second there I wanted to go closer and explore. The headlights of the car were only shining straight ahead; at my sides there was heavy darkness and silence. Noticing the contrast between the headlights and the darkness, I felt like I was intruding, disrupting the nocturnal peace.  I kept looking out to my sides. It looked like the mountains were moving and growing. The silhouettes were gradually transforming into ancient beasts, mythical creatures with ten heads and twenty arms. My heart started beating faster. I almost felt threatened. I felt like I had to get out of the darkness as fast as possible. I put the window up. I didn’t look out to the sides for the rest of the way. At a moment that didn’t come fast enough, I saw the first house lights. My heartbeat got back to normal. I put the window down again. In five minutes I would be home, go to bed and resume my lazy routine.

Time Off Goes By Fast

I was away on vacation for two and a half weeks. Got back a week ago and everything was the same.  I don’t know, I guess I sort of expected things to be renewed and refreshed. But, no… Funny how you expect things to be different. I guess I was the one on vacation, and why would anything back here change, really? I guess the difference should be within me. I got back and everything felt and looked as sad and lame as ever *sigh*

The best part of my vacation was swimming everyday in the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean: clear water you can see the sandy bottom, swimming far out and feeling the goodness of the water and the sun… Pure bliss…. came and went…

Now I kinda feel that summer’s out and I didn’t really have a chance to do anything new and different. I want to visit new places, I want to see new stuff. Sometimes I feel my world is suffocating me.

Anyway, last week I did see something new, Orfeo’s Group “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” (aka The Complete WOWSA) at the Publick Theatre. It was very funny! The production is not anything fancy, but the actors are excellent and you should check it out and enjoy yourself.