HONK! Festival 2011

This past weekend HONK! invaded Somerville. It was the once-a-year crazy scene with awesome brass and marching bands flooding Davis Square. It was the time of the year when young and old glow joy. HONK! is the festival of activist street bands, and the crowd is invited to participate and show support for the message. What is the message? You can read it here, but by just looking around I could see support for democracy, peace, sharing, the environment. It’s also about participating in the fun, and that’s not really a tough one to do.

It was fun wandering around. By the end of the day Saturday the square was overcome with the smells of HONK!: sweat, multiple varieties of body odor, pot. And then Sunday was the great parade when the bands joined by various groups, march down Mass Ave from Davis Square in Somerville to Harvard Square in Cambridge. You see policemen, Mayors, cross-dressers, people on stilts, people-wheels (you know, like a hamster-wheel but with people instead of hamsters). You see weird, you see crazy, but it is all fun and it is all good. HONK! is just another thing that make me love my neighborhood.

I took some photographs, you can see the full set here.

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May 21, 2011: The Rapture Snubbed Us, The PorchFest Rocked Us

Saturday May 21, 2011 was supposed to be Judgement Day. The day when the world as we know it was going to end. But it didn’t. The Rapture completely snubbed Harold Camping’s prediction. We woke up on that day happy to see that is was, in fact, a glorious day. After a week of cloudy and rainy weather we were ready to have our faces and bodies warmed up by the sun. At some point I thought that the Rapture might have happened indeed and I ended up in Heaven: the gorgeous weather and the hot shirtless guys running around were a proof of my transition. Alas, I was still bound by gravity and my own imperfections.

And that was alright. That same day PorchFest was going on around Somerville. PorchFest is a decentralized celebration where musicians play on porches. Turns out there are lots of musicians residing in Somerville, which meant that there were many little parties happening all over the city. The weather was perfect and the ideal way to check out as many porches as possible must have been to bike around the city.  Due to a late start I didn’t visit many venues, but reading the bands/musicians named I decided I had to check out The Rapture Day Ramblers. How aptly named for the day! They were playing on a porch across the street from the Nave Gallery. When we got there they had just starting playing a lovely unplugged set of bluegrass music. People starting coming by to listen. Interesting crowd, families with young children, hipsters, bikers. The guy next to me sat cross-legged on the sidewalk. He was wearing a bow-tie, button down shirt, bermuda shorts, boat shoes, and sported a modified fauxhawk. At some point he took a beer bottle and a glass out of his messenger bag and started drinking. I got a little jealous. Another guy was wearing a ‘Worcester: Paris of the Eighties’ T-shirt. The scene in Somerville was definitely rocking the Rapture.

Snow Day, January 12, 2011

At work on Tuesday we were all talking about the snow storm brewing, kept reading the updated weather forecasts, and started growing anxious, when by the end of the work day we still didn’t know whether next day was going to be a snow day or not. I left work and 15 minutes later I got the call that made me happy: a snow day indeed. Tuesday night I drank wine, stayed up late and watched every news forecast available. They were talking about 18 inches of snow. When I got to bed around midnight, it was still dry.

At around 6 a.m. on Wednesday I woke up by the sound of thunder. I must be having weird dreams, I thought, I should drink less wine next time. I got up around 9:30, looked out of my window, everything was white, it looked like a lot of snow. The bikepath was completely covered by snow, the tree branches were snow frosted, and fat snow flakes were coming down. I turned on the TV and they talked about thunder snow and lighting. Wow.

It was quite windy, as well. By around 2 p.m. I realized I’ve been too lazy and I went for a brief walk from North Cambridge along the bikepath to Davis Square. It was beautiful, fresh snow, few cars on the roads.

Saw cross-country skiers, dogs trying to walk and play in the thick snow layer. And I took some photos, of course. The wind made it a little bit challenging, and it was quite cold: when I finally got back home, my fingers and toes were frozen.

Here’s the slideshow of my photos and here’s the set .

 

Photo of the Day, July 19, 2010 on Bostonist.com

A photo I took during ArtBeat, the funky arts festival in Davis Square in Somerville was chosen Photo of the Day for Monday July 19, 2010 on Bostonist.com. I took the photo on Saturday, which was a pretty hot and humid day, that is not as refreshing as water, this year’s ArtBeat theme. The water in the inflatable pool looked inviting, the bubbles not so. When I tried to picture myself in the bubble,  I could only think of depleted oxygen supply and suffocation. Yes, you can call me party pooper. But kids, that’s what they like, walking on the water in gigantic bubbles. And it looked like they were having lots os fun.

I decided to do some post production treatment on the original image, using the Photoshop application for iPhone. I kinda like the dreamy hue of the end result. The blue of the inflatable pool is strong and reminds me that I can’t wait for the day I’m going on vacation.

Gritty Somerville

Sometime last summer I took a photowalk in the gritty parts of Somerville. The areas of the city with the auto shops, the areas of abandoned buildings, abandoned trains, boarded up buildings, the areas where rust and decay are everywhere. There is something compelling about decay, there is something beautiful. Something that catches the eye and you can’t ignore. You can see the full set of my photos here.

A Bookstore in Davis Square? Dream On

When I first moved in the Davis Square area of Somerville back in 2004, I liked its edginess, I liked the bars, restaurants and shops. But I immediately noticed that something was missing: a bookstore, as in a bookstore selling new books. At that time McIntyre and Moore was in the square, but they are a used-books store. Also something called Buck-A-Book was around. It was selling some books that nobody ever wanted to buy, certainly not for a buck, but mostly it was selling useless stuff that nobody ever wants to buy, except for my grandma or the cat lady next door.

To me that was quite disappointing: I had just moved in the area from Coolidge Corner, where I used to spend time and money at the Brookline Booksmith. The lack of a decent bookstore was also quite surprising: one would think that the area needed and it should be able to sustain a bookstore: the area was full of young professionals, students from Tufts and generally a crowd I would loosely characterize intellectual. I was really missing Booksmith. I loved the book selection there, the atmosphere, the helpful staff and their (usually) great book suggestions (Slight digression: One of their suggestions was Iain Banks’ “The Wasp Factory”, which I bought and read and it still haunts me as the most disturbing book I have ever read). They also had a great selection of discounted books, not just a couple of books, but a sizable amount of titles, both new and old. I could go in there, browse and always end up buying something. Oh yes, and did I mention that they always played awesome music at the perfect volume?!

With Davis Square lacking a bookstore that I liked, I took the T to Harvard Square, and soon Harvard Book Store became the store of preference. Generally I dislike chains, so I avoid Borders, Barnes and Noble, and the idea is that I want to support the independent bookstore. When McIntyre and Moore moved out of the square, I had this idea that I could open a bookstore in that space. I bought a book about opening and operating a bookstore, and my excitement lasted for about a week. I don’t think I’m really the business type, heck, I haven’t even worked at a bookstore. I couldn’t believe that nobody saw how perfect an opportunity it was to open a bookstore in that perfect location. I’m sure reasonable people saw that it was a dying business and pairing that with the extremely high rent of the location (somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 per month), the thought was careless. To me, the most appropriate outcome would have been for the Brookline Booksmith to open another store there. Of course that never happened, as Bowl & Board moved into that space. My hopes and dreams were crushed. Oh, well…

A little time before that, sometime in 2004, when it was announced that an independent bookstore would open in Porter Square, I got excited. Davis to Porter is only a 10-minute walk. What a relief. I had high hopes. I remember the first time I went into the Porter Square Books: everything smelled and felt very new, and the place felt empty, which most likely was the case as the store had just opened. I decided to give the place a chance to grow and visit again later. I visited many times again, but I’m afraid I have to admit that I do not like the place. It just doesn’t feel right. The selection feels extremely limited and after all these years it still feels empty. Whenever I go there to get a specific book, they never have it. I like the bookstore to overwhelm me with books. I want to feel the need to explore all the sections, all the racks. It somehow felt that part of the problem is that the shelves don’t go up high enough. Not only does it feel empty, it also is very loud. Even before the cafe addition, both the staff and the customers tended to talk very loud. Maybe it’s that the emptiness allows the sound to get amplified. And now with the cafe addition the sound of the coffee machines and blenders is painful. I would really love to support this bookstore, but I can’t. The place feels wrong. For me buying is a book is an experience. That’s why I don’t buy books on-line. That’s why I want the bookstore to feel right.

Recently there was a discussion on Davis Square Live Journal (DSLJ) about the prospect of opening a bookstore in the square. The Davis Square Bookstore Project is a community group that “are sharing ideas, connections, and effort to try to bring a bookstore to Davis Square”. I wish them luck, as I still believe that a bookstore would be a great addition to the square. Their post on DSLJ generated about 40 comments, and most of them say, more or less, that Davis does not need one, because the Porter Sq bookstore is close enough and people are generally happy with it, and they do not want another store to cut into their business. There are also comments about the no-future status of the book-business; I would tend to agree with the last one, but at the same time Raven Used Books in Harvard Square is opening a second store on Newbury Street. It may be that the new and used book business are totally different monsters. Still, I am all for success stories.

The proximity argument is a strange one, Davis to Porter is a 10-minute walk, but for people who live towards the other side of the square, towards Tufts, Ball Square, Porter is a 20-30minute walk, and a Davis Square location would definitely be more convenient for those people. Another major problem I see is the extremely high rents: at 255 Elm Street for example commercial space goes for $25-30/sq ft/ year. The old McIntyre and Moore / Bowl & Board location is not available anymore, a new lounge/restaurant is set to open in the Fall. Maybe the empty storefront at the Citizens Bank building would be suitable for a bookstore? I really don’t know. The only bookstore that would be able to afford high rents is a chain, which I object to. The business is tough and think it’s going to be even tougher for a newbie with no prior bookstore experience. I don’t want a bookstore to come, fail and go.

The ideal candidate would be a locally independent store that has been successful and has been around for quite some time. Like, say, Brookline Booksmith.  Brookline Booksmith and Wellesley Booksmith have been very successful, and honestly the idea of a Davis Square Booksmith or a Somerville Booksmith or a Cambridge Booksmith sounds great!

Well, things get strange sometimes: while I was writing this I received an e-mail from Marshall Smith, owner of the Booksmiths, announcing his retirement and looking to sell Wellesley Booksmith. I am afraid opening a new Booksmith, won’t be part of his thoughts in Truro, where he plans to spend his time. I guess my hopes for an independent, successful, amazing Davis Square bookstore are crushed once again. But I can dream on…

Split/Signal – Silent Film/Scored Live @ The Armory

Last Saturday I attended Split/Signal, an event of silent films scored live. The venue was The Center for the Arts at the Armory, a recently created art space in a former armory on Highland Ave in Somerville. It was my first time visiting the Armory and I think they did a good job with the huge space. I liked the light pouring from the windows, but it was not such a good thing for the 7pm starting time as light found its way on the projection screen…

The musicians participating in the event composed original music for the silent shorts and overall the result was very good. There was also free snacks, beer and wine. The servers went around dressed as cigarette girls, carrying the glasses in trays. After trying to block the sun coming in from the high window, the event was off to a good start.

The first short film was by Jon Cianfrani and the score was done by the duo Mike Dunkley & Todd Brozman; the used their laptops to provide the electronic music score, and it was very good. Then it was time for Black Yodel’s music and Michael Maraden’s short. I liked the compact music. After that we saw Dado Ramadani’s short with ambient mostly music played by Arms & Sleepers, and right after that Devil Music provided the soundtrack for an animated Barrett Films short. Caspian was much better than I thought they would be and I liked Bryan Deblasio’s film. Roger Miller (of the Mission of Burma) composed a very fitting score for Handcranked Productions short full of scenes of american ruins; I really liked it, both visually and acoustically. The next band on was Cul De Sac with music for VJ Dziga’s film. The event ended with music by the Books and film by Rich Remsberg. They played a longer set than the others, and they were good too.

I read some complaints about the time forthe change of set up that the bands needed between acts, but I didn’t find it excessive. It gave you some time to seek more wine or beer, or go to the loo and receive compliments for the dress you were wearing (btw I liked the nice touch of mints in the women’s bathroom), or talk about the previous act, or walk around.

I was pleasantly surprised with the superb quality of sound. And I found the event to be well produced and it was something different. It’s not too common, I think, to see “silent films scored live” these days, and I totally appreciate the idea and the implementation. I was really happy I attended. I hope the Armory hosts more cool events like this, and Split / Signal put together their next project pretty soon. 

UPDATE: See more photos here