14 October 2016

Coastal Tour

I have never lived close to water.  For most of my life I've been in a desert where closest bodies of water are small, often man-made reservoirs.  Growing up I lived near some lakes and rivers, but none worth swimming in and none close enough to enjoy on a regular basis.  Driving along the New England coastline today put another dent in my "thou shalt not covet" armor - how glorious to live by the sea!  I don't enjoy crowded beaches and surf culture, but I do enjoy the steady roll of the waves and quiet walks along the coast.  There is a kind of soul centering that happens with such a vast landscape.  I would love to live in Maine.  The exchange for bitter cold winters would be worth it.  I can handle cold.

I don't know what it is exactly about Maine that has always attracted me but I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint.  It was every bit as charming and beautiful as you would want it to be.  Next time I come to New England, I'll need to plan much more time there.  Our original plan was to visit a city called Wiscasset, but we ended up going to Ogunquit at the recommendation of our Uber driver (Ali) from earlier in the week.  Ogunquit means "beautiful place by the sea" and it is that.  It has long been frequented by artists because of its stunning topography - I feel like we only scratched the surface of what the town had to offer.  The town was voted as the best small coastal town in America in USA Today this year - it's easy to see why.  The town has an active arts scene with an art museum and active repertory theater.  They also have the "Marginal Way", a twelve mile coastal walk along the length of the town.  We only went a fraction of the way the path offered since we still wanted to visit Salem, but walking the whole thing is on my bucket list now.  What we did see was beautiful.

One thing I love to find when I travel is local art to take home. I have a wall in my upstairs hallway where I feature art from everywhere I travel.  Today I found the addition for this trip (in the nick of time!).  It's a watercolor of the area in a repurposed barn wood frame by a local artist and I am thrilled.  I'm also glad I found no more books.  Six.  How did I find six books to take home?!  What is wrong with me?!!!  My poor suitcase.

Before going to Salem, we made a brief stop at the Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine.  There's another thing I'd love to do - a lighthouse hunt along the coast.  This lighthouse is, mercifully, wading distance to the mainland, so the keeper wouldn't have had to live too far from civilization, and in exchange, he'd have the best view in town.  Sounds like a pretty good deal, even if the exchange involved a lot of work.  Given the number of houses we drove by en route to said lighthouse that were, I'm sure, well over six figures to purchase, the work to keep the lighthouse up sounds like a fantastic trade off.

Salem hasn't ever been terribly high on my list of places to see but, given that we are here in October, it seemed like a foolish thing to miss.  For anyone who really loves Halloween, Salem would be an absolute must.  Halloween is a month long celebration here.  A massive carnival down town, costumes everywhere, even a black cat graced us with its presence while driving around.  It was an absolute circus of cars.  Salem looks like a nice enough city to live in but it would be miserable in October.  Those small New England streets just aren't meant to host that kind of insane traffic.

We managed to escape the heavy crowds by staying away from all things witch related and heading instead to the historic "House of Seven Gables" which, despite my lack of love for Nathaniel Hawthorne, turned out to be a rather interesting tour.  The Turner family who owned the house made their extreme wealth in shipping.  Although the wealth of the home didn't seem like much compared to the homes we saw yesterday in Newport, given a few hundred years of time, the Turners would have been able to compete financially with the Vanderbilts; they just didn't have the technological capability to do so.  All the same, the house was impressive and beautiful.  It was a unique tour since it told essentially three stories: the Turners, the Ingersolls, and the fictional one featured in Hawthorne's novel.  Actually, much of the house was re-purposed once a woman named Caroline Emmerton owned the house in the early 1900s so that  tourists visiting the home would see places referenced in the book (including a claustrophobia inducing secret passageway that was really up a chimney).  The tour didn't make me want to read Hawthorne, but it was still interesting and worth the time.

There is something really magical about New England.  So much of what has shaped our entire country has come from this little hive of history and philosophy and art.  You can see the weight of that feeling still permeating through the streets.  There are political signs everywhere, more than I ever saw even in Iowa during election season.  The small book store scene is alive and well, and nearly every bookstore I went in (and I went into basically every one I saw) was busy.  We saw more antique stores than Starbucks'.  Even with the tourist draw, there is a definite charm that has not been lost or sacrificed among those that live here.  Even the drivers are polite - everyone gives way to pedestrians (it's the law, but still), and cars diligently take turns and wait for others to go first.  There may be a reputation of stubbornness but there is a reality of kindness that I am so impressed by.

I think what I have loved most about this trip is that it's given me new places to love.  The more I explore the world, the more of the world I get to love.  I've been able to love the museums of Paris and the mountains of Scotland.  The bustling streets of Dublin and the West End of London.  The childhood reminiscing in Disneyland, the sheep chasing in the Lake District.  The awe inspiring beauty of the Alps, Salem Harbor, and Prince Edward Island.  I've walked the busy city streets of Victoria and figured out public transportation in Boston and Berlin.  My passport has taken me to Mexico twice, Canada once, and Europe four times in the last decade.  What a gift it is to travel.  There are some things about being single that kind of suck, but the chance to travel the world is NOT one of them.

New England - you have been perfect.  I can't wait to come explore more of you.

13 October 2016

Newport Mansions

The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain, and it was not a compliment.  He used it to refer to what could essentially be called slapping lipstick on a pig - the tendency by the people in the era to want to be as elaborate as they possibly could.  And boy could they.

If you look at a list of the wealthiest people in history, most lists will include at least five men from the Gilded Age in the top ten.  The era lasted from roughly the end of the American Civil War and lasted through the turn of the century and refers to the incredible wealth of men like Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt who came into their money because of overwhelming business success.  Unlike men in Europe who were scrambling to hold onto wealth that was slipping through their fingertips as the Industrial Revolution took off, men in America were rolling in more money than they knew what to do with, and when you had more money than you knew what to do with, you built a home in Newport, Rhode Island.

Newport is full of mansions owned by the well-to-do of the day, and these little Versailles were especially interesting to visit after seeing the inherited wealth of England all summer.  Unlike the estate homes in England which were full of relics passed down through the centuries from family to family, these homes are full of extravagance that was the product of a few years of work.  These were homes designed to look old.  Sometimes they would have the old shipped in - one home we saw had a five hundred year old French fireplace shipped over from Europe - but for the most part, these homes are, like Versailles, designed to show off wealth.  They lived short familial home lives, though - few of them are lived in now - only two or three generations of these families have been able to really experience the grandeur of such living.  (Again, unlike the British counterparts, where many of these grand homes are still, at least in part, family homes.)

We started the day in Marble House, so named because it's got an insane amount of marble on all the walls and floors.  There was marble in colors I didn't know marble even came in.  Not all the marble was real - upstairs some of the walls are painted to look like marble, but that was really only because the family wanted the house open in time for "the season" (the summer) and the house wasn't done being constructed yet - it was just faster to get the painting done rather than wait for more stone.

As far as history goes, this house is best known as being home to Consuelo Vanderbilt, who would go on to marry the Duke of Marlborough (best known to Americans as the uncle of Winston Churchill and ancestor of Lady Diana).  It was not a happy marriage for either party - both Consuelo and the Duke had other people in mind that they would rather have been with, but both had familial obligations to fulfill: the Duke needed to marry someone who could afford to pay for the upkeep of Blenheim Palace (she could, and famously added indoor plumbing to the place), and she needed to marry someone with a title (the fashionable thing for a socialite to do). Consuelo was extremely beautiful (J.M. Barrie is said to have waited for hours just to see her get into her carriage) and talented, her artistic taste is all over Blenheim Palace and much of her story (and stories of other women like her) inspired the stories of Downton Abbey.

Marble House is an homage to the last Kings of France.  All through the house are tributes to Louis XIV and his grandson, Louis XVI (he of "married to Marie Antoinette" fame).  As in Versailles, Louis XIV is everywhere in the house - his bust greets you when you come up the main staircase, his figure features above the main mirror in the gold room off the main hall (and on the ceiling, where he vomits up light fixtures).

Marble House may have been one level of ornate, but The Breakers were insane.  There's a reason houses like that one are often used to represent Jay Gatsby.  The Breakers (so named for its proximity to the ocean) is really the second house built on the property - the first mysteriously burned down.  As a result, the new home is built with no wooden structural pieces at all and the broiler is kept far away from the main structure of the house.  It was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt - the center of the Newport social scene.  The mansion contains seventy rooms and many technological innovations that Europeans could only have dreamed of under similar living conditions - electricity for one, running water for another.  There were buttons on the walls that could be used to call specific places around the house (similar to an intercom system) and enough bathrooms for everyone to enjoy a hot bath whenever they wanted.

That kind of wealth is just unfathomable to me.  One Vanderbilt described such inherited wealth as being as dangerous as cocaine.  Another talked about how horrified she was when she found out about her status as an heiress; she was worried no one would love her for anything other than her money.  I think, when it comes down to it, I feel like Anne Shirley when she visits the city for the first time - that she'd like the chance to live in wealth for a while, but that ultimately she'd like the sound of the brook behind her house more than the sound of tinkling china. Having enough money to not have to worry about money - that's all I want.

We spent so much time wandering the houses that we completely forgot about lunch - plus we got off to a bit of a late start, partly because we slept in, partly because mom dropped her phone in the toilet, partly because mom also lost her ticket to the mansions somewhere on the walk from the car (her back pocket was cursed today), so we went straight to dinner after we were done with The Breakers.  We went to a restaurant on the waterfront as recommended by a travel website I found called "The Mooring" and it was utterly divine.  Rick Steves says that coming home with the most money is not the goal of travel - coming home with the most experience is, and sometimes the best way to get that experience is through freakishly awesome food.  I got fresh sole (fish) topped with a crab cake and arugula, along with some golden Yukon potatoes.  If I'm ever asked what I want my last meal to be. . . I think that's what I want.  It was divine.

In general, exploring Newport was utterly delightful.  Every time I travel I discover a city that I wish I could stay in for much longer - this time I've discovered two - Newport and Concord.  I haven't had nearly enough time in either place.  I think tomorrow will probably not make things better as we are off to Maine for our last full day before heading home.  It's been dreamy.

12 October 2016


I love the Transcendentalists.  They may not have achieved everything they wanted to while they were living, but their ideals really were ahead of their time and I am grateful for them.  Even in high school I knew that they understood things that I needed to understand.  Their writing is often wordy and intense, but the payoff is nearly always worth it.

The center of Transcendentalist fervor is Concord, Massachusetts.  (Embarrassing personal disclosure: I only TODAY put together that the Concord of Louisa May Alcott and the Concord of Lexington and Concord fame are the same place.  For all my brainpower and love of trivia and history, sometimes stupid things still fly way above my head and come crashing down with a thud that sounds a lot like a "duh".)  In Concord, the Transcendentalists attempted to form communities where people lived simply and with unity.  Nearly one hundred years before suffrage they pushed for the vote.  More than one hundred and fifty years before schools would integrate in the south, Bronson Alcott was founding schools where not only boys and girls learned alongside each other, but children of all races were taught.  They were educated in art and music - they had recess.  Their ideas were so radical that they never came into fashion, but their writing lives on, and thank heaven for that.

It is fitting that on a day when we paid homage to these great thinkers that we began with no water.  The apartment below ours is being completely remodeled and they turned the water off this morning.  We realized this before we got the chance to eat breakfast, but it definitely helped us get out of the house faster than we have done in the last few days.  The construction workers downstairs are really friendly, though - asking us what we've been up to on our visit and recommending good restaurants.

Our first stop for the day (after picking up our rental car) was Orchard House.  Orchard House is the best known home of the Alcott family, though they moved at least twenty times prior to settling here.  Bronson Alcott, the patriarch, was quite the idealist.  He was constantly seen as a radical for his ideas about education (he promoted children asking questions in class!), women, slavery, and other things that are now way less radical and way more normal (like the vegan diet).  His wife, Abby May, was born to a relatively well-to-do family that looked down on her marriage to Bronson, but she said that her soul was lonely until she met him, so apparently she didn't see it as a step down in her life.  The two had four children - all daughters: Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and May.  Best known of these is, of course, Louisa - author of Little Women (as well as thirty other novels).

It's hard to separate the real life Alcotts from the fictional March family.  Louisa was encouraged to write from her life, and much of the book is the very definition of art imitating life. Like Jo, Louisa felt out of place in the world.  She loved to run.  She loved to write.  She was a thinker and a voracious reader tutored at the feet of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who loaned her books and thought nothing of the fact that she was a girl who had no business reading Faust when she should be focusing her attention on needlepoint.  The Transcendentalists may not have been able to change the entire city, but the principles were alive and well in the Alcott house - quite literally.  May, the youngest Alcott, became Amy in the book - like her fictional counterpart, May was a great artist, who drew over any surface in the house she could find (with or without permission).  She was an amazing artist, lucky enough to study in Europe several times (twice with the help of Louisa's financial support after the success of her writing).  The house is full of her work - nearly every piece on the walls came from her.  Framed or unframed (she had a tendency to draw directly on the walls), she was encouraged by her parents.  May would go on to tutor Daniel Chester French, the sculptor best known for his design of the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in DC.  She even named her daughter Louisa in honor of her sister.

There is something so special about the Alcotts.  Their family unity and love is palpable in their home, in their writings, in their legacy.  There are signs everywhere of a family that cared for each other.  May painted flowers on the walls of Louisa's room when she came home ill after working in a Civil War hospital.  Bronson build Louisa a custom desk on which she wrote her books and through which he demonstrated his support of his unconventional daughter.  Anna was married in the parlor.  Elizabeth never lived in the house (she died as a result of scarlet fever before the family moved in), but there is a portrait of her above a piano in her honor.  One of the most special - dare I say sacred - experiences of my life was portraying Beth in the Little Women Musical several years ago.  There is an extremely special spirit about this family, and being allowed to step into their fictional shoes every night was an incredible experience.  I am so grateful for this story, and for this family, for the beauty they have given to the world.  I feel a great kinship to these amazing people.

After a stop at the Concord Museum, we went over to Walden Pond.  Walden was a beloved spot of all the Transcendentalists - Louisa features it in Little Women as the pond where Amy nearly drowns - but it is probably best known because of the writings of Henry David Thoreau.  Thoreau (pronounced less like "Thur-oh" and more like "Thor-oh" with emphasis on the first syllable - at least according to Thoreau himself and the local experts) once "went to the woods because (he) wanted to live deliberately".  He moved to Walden, built himself a modest home (that no longer stands, though the location is set off), and lived as simply as he could.  It's hard to imagine a more beautiful place to do so.  Walden itself is a peaceful, quiet location surrounded by trees.  Even with lots of visitors, it was peaceful and quiet.  I picked up a bunch of acorns to bring back home with me - one of the "houses" in my classes at school was named for Emerson - the symbols are an oak leaf and acorn in honor of the Transcendentalist belief that everyone has potential.

Our final stop was the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the burying ground of the local authors of significance, including Nathaniel Hawthorne (I hate The Scarlet Letter. . . ), the Alcott family, Emerson and his family, and Thoreau's family.  It's not uncommon to see tributes on the headstones of people of significance.  Earlier this week we saw coins left on the monument to Robert Newman (who helped warn that "the British (were) coming!") Rocks are often left as a tribute as well.  Fittingly, there are pens left by the headstones of Thoreau and Alcott.  (I'm sure there would be for Hawthorne and Emerson as well, if they weren't roped off.) My heart is full.

There are so many people in history that I can't wait to see and to thank for the work they've done in the world or for me personally.  Lucy Maud Montgomery.  C.S. Lewis.  John Adams, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln - every single transcendentalist.  They reach my soul.  They give me hope in myself and my potential to do good beyond what I can see.  They may not have found wild success as a community in their lifetime, but they've made their mark.  Today I'm glad to have wandered through their footsteps.

11 October 2016

Second Verse, Same as the First (aka: more pastry, more book, more chocolate.)

When I was in high school I had a shirt that I bought from Old Navy that said "Cambridge" on it.  I bought it because of England, but I had my history teacher come to me one day and say "want to go to Harvard, huh?"  I seem to remember laughing.  Yeah.  Right. I'm no moron, but I never would have gotten into Harvard.

After visiting Cambridge for real today, I don't necessarily regret that I didn't go to Harvard (the city is crazy expensive, the school is crazy expensive, everything is crowded, the school is constantly crowded with tourists. . . But man it's beautiful.  BYU has many virtues and I don't regret my education there at all, but man there are some ugly buildings on that campus.  Basically any building constructed while the school was expanding in the 70s is horrific.  More recent builds have a classic collegiate look that I like, but you really can't beat the atmosphere of Cambridge, even with all the tourists and the traffic.  I love being on college campuses just in general - I swear if college paid well then I'd never leave it.

We didn't take an official campus tour so I'm not sure that I have any great Harvard trivia to give that didn't come from what I'm sure is an inaccurate episode of Gilmore Girls, but I do know that there are 73 libraries on campus and that the Harvard collection of books is the third largest in the nation, behind the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library.  The centerpiece of the collection is the Widener Library, which holds 3.5 million books and is named for a Harvard grad who died on the Titanic in 1907 and was a book collector.  Only students are allowed to go into the school, which is understandable but ticks me off because there is little I love more in this world than beautiful libraries.

Fortunately, Harvard has plenty of bookstores and although my suitcase has no room in it for more books I will find a way because I now have two more books to add to my collection - some short novellas by Alan Bennett and a memoir where a woman wrote about what was going on in her life on the same day every year for forty years - 1960 to 2000.  She lived behind the Iron Curtain for at least half the book and I think it's going to be fascinating.  My poor "to-read" shelves are screaming at me to pace myself but a house isn't really a home if it doesn't have a fantastic library, right?

We spent most of the morning just wandering the city but eventually made our way over to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house, which was. . .closed.  The exterior was really pretty, though?  We got to look at the gardens around the house and watch the squirrels for a bit.  Then we walked around for a bit and stopped for some more pastries (Mike's Pastry Shop has a branch near Harvard that has way less crowd issues than the one in Boston) and at a local chocolate shop.  Now that I think about it, today was basically a repeat of yesterday: book stores, chocolate, pastries, and wandering through historical sites for a while.  We're either predictable or easy to please, I guess.  Neither of us feel disappointed, so that's good.

Finding the Longfellow House closed we decided to leave Cambridge and go instead to the Gardner Museum in Boston, but that was closed as well (we found that out before we left, at least) so we went instead to visit the USS Constitution.  The USS Constitution was named by George Washington and is the oldest floating warship in the world.  She saw most of her action in the War of 1812 where it earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" against a ship that looks like it was named after cheese (seriously - the HMS Gueirrere).  Its performance in the war saved it from being scrapped dozens of times, and the Constitution went on to be a training ship during the Civil War and a museum exhibition that sailed to the Paris Exposition in 1878.  There's not all that much left of her to see at the moment (though I think that may be more because of the renovation work they were doing on her when we were there) but it was still worth the trip.  It's impressive that she's still afloat.

By this point we'd walked about seven miles, so we were hungry.  We went back to what our guidebook calls the "drenched in marinara" north end of Boston for some Italian.  The guidebook wasn't joking - the street we went to had nothing but Italian food options, all of which looked and smelled amazing.  We found one that looked good, and it was good, and all was well.

Some other random observations:

Traveling with my mom is awesome.  We're both relatively easy going travelers.  We have opinions on what we want to do, but are flexible enough to bend to what the other person wants.  It's been delightful.

Political campaigning is much more active here than it is in Utah.  I think some of this may be because we're not just seeing adds for Presidential campaigns or local propositions, but also adds for Congressmen from Massachusetts and surrounding states.  One of the local propositions is ticking me off because the locals are voting on charter school funding.  Public schools are losing money because of charter schools! The anti Prop 2 adds say.  NO THEY DON'T I yell at the TV.  Schools get money for the students they teach, so the funding they're "losing" is really only representative of students they aren't actually teaching.  Heaven FORBID we give people a choice in their education.  "But those schools might be horrible!" people argue.  "Yes," I respond.  "They could be. But a traditional public school doesn't automatically mean the school is good and. . .

I could go on about this forever, but now probably isn't the time or place given that I'm supposed to be writing about my trip, but it's my blog so what the hell: American education is still holding on with a vice grip to traditions established more than a hundred years ago that weren't founded on principles of what actually taught skills the best but what was the most efficient and logical.  The rest of the world is moving at lightning speed to adapt and change to the technologically obsessed and creative world we live in, but schools are still trying to fight against all of that like it will leave and pass like a fad.  For the love of all that is holy, LET PEOPLE INNOVATE.

I'm done.

Tomorrow I will center my chi by visiting the hallowed forests of transcendentalism.  I can't wait.

10 October 2016

The Freedom Trail

For the record, I'm pretty sure there are chirping smoke alarms in hell.  All last night, one of the alarms in the hall outside our apartment beeped.  This morning, the other one started.  Whomever invented those blasted things is the worst.  We have phones we can unlock with our fingerprints or our eyeballs, certainly we can come up with a better way to alert someone that the batteries need to be changed.

Aside from chirping alarms, staying in this sleepy little neighborhood has been so fun.  My favorite part about staying with Airbnb is the chance you get to stay outside of tourist centers.  We may spend a good part of our days playing tourist, but we get the chance to escape the busy city and enjoy the relative normalcy of suburban life.  I love it.

Today we started on the north part of town and hit up a few features on the Freedom Trail.  If you haven't been to Boston (or studied the American Revolution), then you ought to review the story of Boston.  Without this intensely stubborn city, the Revolution would never have happened.  Boston was the center of industry and shipping for the English at the time - all the taxes, all the regulations, all the rules hit Boston harder than anywhere else.  It was a city founded on the backs of principled and educated men and women who eloquently and firmly fought for their ideals and managed to convince more reluctant colonies (I'm looking at you, South Carolina) that sticking with England was detrimental to the prosperity of the locals.  All my love of England aside - I do think that America becoming free from Britain was the right choice.  I am grateful for my forefathers and New England ancestry for the sacrifices they made to ensure the prosperity of this country.

The Freedom Trail, then, takes you to some of the more important Colonial locations.  We started by visiting the Copp's Hill Burial Ground, where some of the earliest Puritan settlers were buried.  Some of the highlights include Captain Robert Newman - one of the men who helped light the lanterns and hang them to warn the American Militia that the British were coming (by sea, as it turned out). The other grave that I found particularly interesting was an obelisk in honor of the first black Master Mason in the all-black Free Mason lodge in early Boston.

From there we went down the hill to the Old North Church, made famous because of is role in being the location from which Captain Newman (and his companion whose name I can't remember) lit the lanterns to signal the coming British attack, which led to what was essentially the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War.  The church itself is significant enough to have been visited and frequented by many important people throughout history.  The pew we sat in, for example, was once used by Teddy Roosevelt.

Just behind the Old North Church is a chocolate shop.  We had to stop.  The smell alone was divine.  We walked over the "Don't Tread on Me" rug (seriously?) and some salted caramels and a cashew turtle later (mom can never resist those), we went for some more dessert at the famous Mikes Pastries store.  We got there just before the rush (the store was full when we got there, the line was down the block when we left), and it was totally worth it.  We each got a croissant and have a cannoli and a macaroon waiting for us when we want more dessert.  Given that we walked about five miles today, I'm not feeling bad at all about that.  Even if I hadn't walked five miles today, I wouldn't feel bad.  I thank God every day for carbs.

Paul Revere's house was next.  I had no idea that Paul Revere ever did anything of significance in his life other than ride a horse, but he was a bit of a Renaissance Man.  I found out that his work in dentistry led to early forensic techniques.  He had sixteen children, eleven of which survived to adulthood.  It was fun to learn more about him today.

After Paul Revere's House we made our way to Faneuil Hall and the Quincey Market.  We ended up eating lunch in the "Cheers" restaurant, which meant little to either of us since mom and I have never seen the show, but the Clam Chowder was delicious, so that's good.

The Brattle Bookshop was a must.  Frankly, any bookshop is a must.  This one was particularly awesome, with a huge selection of books outside and a decent selection inside as well.  I probably could have stayed for hours, but I limited myself in respect of my company and my budget, and came out with three awesome books, two of which were printed prior to the first world war.  (Ironically, they were the cheapest books.) A collection of poetry by Tennyson, essays by Emerson, and Faust.  I love beautiful books.  I don't know how in the world I'm going to get them home in my tiny little suitcase, but I've been training my entire life for creative packing of books.

We wandered through the main parks in central Boston for a while after the bookshop.  The parks were smaller than I imagined them to be - the parks and gardens in London are so big that you can forget you're in the city - but they were well worth the trip, if only for the chance to do some squirrel watching.  There were so many of them.  Living in Utah you rarely see squirrels.  I forget about that until I see them again and realize how much I miss them.  These squirrels are so used to people feeding them that they come right over to you and look for the food in your hands if you crouch down.  Man I love those little rodents.

So far I haver really enjoyed the chance to wander this city.  Boston reminds me of so many other cities I've been to.  Seeing Pret restaurants reminds me of London.  The mix of history and modern structures reminds me of Berlin.  The squirrels and the smell of fallen leaves remind me of Iowa and being a kid again.  It's been lovely.

09 October 2016

Rainy Day in the Windy City

Nothing today has really gone according to plan.  For example - about ten seconds ago, the post I'd spent the last two hours working on (while watching Bringing Up Baby, I wasn't totally focussed) disappeared completely.  No idea where it went.  The app I used to compose the thing is now in the garbage can of my iPad and I'm back to composing the old fashioned way.  This post will probably be shorter and more sarcastic (if such a thing is possible. . .)

As I mentioned yesterday, we started off today by going to church.  Or, rather, we attempted to.  The address I found on lds.org took us who knows where.  As it was, we did get a rather fascinating conversation with our Uber driver, a man named Ali who was born in Iraq but came to the US via a Saudi Arabian refugee camp.  His life story was amazing - his determination to make the best of situations, the way he has been able to build his life from $350 a month to a solid accounting job at Boston University (and into a car that's way nicer than mine).  He spoke about the way he believes that our spirits are drawn to different places and people, how he picked our trip because, while he wouldn't normally go this way, it felt like the right thing.  I'm glad he did.

The whole drive reminded me of what a charmed life I've led - to have lived forever in cities where I could have the run of the neighborhood on my bike.  I remember riding my bike a mile away to the grocery store to go pick up donuts - or walking a few miles to school back when I was in elementary school.  I've had opportunity and grown up in a relatively just world.  It's easy to take that for granted and to sit on your laurels when so much of the world is in great need.  I don't know what the solution to that problem is - the imperialist solution that came about in the early 1900s is less than ideal, but dropping off food and supplies and running away seems heartless.  For the time being, I'm going to use my vote to support those who want to help bring refugees into the country to make better lives for themselves.  The process of getting into our country as a refugee is so complicated and difficult that I don't think there is any need to latch onto the fear that so many want to spread about those coming into the United States.  And you know what?  If someone did come into our country that did want to do harm, then fine.  Given everything else that's going on right now, they'd have to get in line with everyone else who is already doing harm.  That shouldn't stop us from doing good, especially to those who are asking for it.

We ended up napping instead of going to church before heading back out into the rain to the Museum of Fine Art.  Mom spent most of the ride there talking religion with our Uber driver, which I found pretty impressive because small talk is not my strong suit, but my mom has a fantastic way of sharing her thoughts without coming off as either pushy or weak.  She's a marvel.

The MFA is fantastic.  We had a great time wandering the different exhibits, particularly the American and European exhibits.  The quality of light and color in the impressionist paintings was particularly impressive to me.  Something about seeing such exquisite creation reminds me of the great potential humans have.  I also enjoyed a hallway that paralleled the cultural, political, and religious development in London and a city in China.  Museums that are well organized remind me of how much we have in common, and the beauty of what makes us different.

The Contemporary exhibit was unique - I have to remind myself in contemporary exhibits that it's a bit like wandering into the new fiction section of a bookstore - no one has any idea, yet, what books that have been published will have any kind of staying power in the long run so the whole area is pretty hit and miss.  Today there was a podium with speeches on it that you could read from as a commentary on the effect that a speaker has on the power of words (no one took the artist up on the challenge while we were there but the idea was cool).  In the same room there was a video of what appeared to be a woman eating something from her breast with a spoon.  I didn't get close enough to that one to figure out what the heck it was supposed to mean.  Also, ew.

We stayed at the museum until just before it closed, then walked through the rain to the T to catch a train home.  After years and years of public transportation exploring all around the world, I think I can comfortably tell you that I have seen a more interesting variety of personalities on trains in Boston in the last day than I have in all the other places I've been, with the possible exception of that drunken train ride we took in Germany a few years ago (we weren't drunk, the football fans were.)

We decided to catch a cab back home instead of walking the rest of the way in the rain - the cab we caught may not have actually been a cab. . .but the driver got us where we needed to go so. . . No harm no foul? Yay for adventures!  Not everything went as planned, but the day has still been delightful.  Tomorrow we head into old Boston in search of pastries, books, and history.

08 October 2016

Off to Massachusetts

When I was on my way home from England, I texted my mom (as you do) to let her know I was alright and back on US soil.  We talked about the trip and how amazing it had all been, how she'd enjoyed reading my blog updates, our own rudimentary plans to go back to Prince Edward Island, Canada later in the year (a trip inspired by my own desire to just go somewhere even if it meant going by myself, and dad encouraging mom to go with me - we've both had pretty insane years.)  I think, though, that my trip had struck a chord with my mom, and by the time the train pulled into the station in Provo, our trip to PEI (an amazing place, but one we've both been to) had morphed into a trip to Boston - a city that would allow us a great mix of high culture and easy access to small town charm.

Little did I know that this week would come at a rather inconvenient time. It's been an intensely difficult school year so far, and it's about to get crazier with the addition of about eighty more students on my roster the Monday after I get back.  I haven't had any time to really think about the trip at all or get excited about it.  Honestly, I've felt rather guilty leaving when there's so much to do.  Fortunately for me, I have a saint of a co-teacher at home who is earning some serious heaven points for covering for me while I'm gone.  I owe him big.

The last time I was in the North East wasn't really all that far north.  When I was in high school my family road-tripped to Washington DC.  It was an amazing trip and my first real taste of a big city.  I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip - my first time regularly "commuting" on public transport.  My first encounter with a drunken passenger on said public transportation. My first time actually visiting a place I'd studied in school.  Otherwise, although I've always been drawn to the North East (I grew up in the Gilmore Girls generation after all), I've never been there.  And what better time to go than in the fall?  When the North East is North Eastiest? And with my Marmee?

Day one was mostly travel for the both of us.  My plane took off from the gate just next to the one I left from for England this summer.  I could see the ghost of Joni past a few feet away and felt a little envious of her, because ENGLAND, but England will still be there next time I get there, and the shorter flight to Boston sounded way more appealing.  Who wouldn't want to go to Boston in the fall?

For all my love of England, I have a great feeling of kinship to John Adams.  Adams lived just outside of Boston in the city of Braintree.  There is so much of his story I relate to - his open and obvious flaws but eternal desire to make things better for the world around him.  He was passionate in the cause of justice.  Of particular note was his defense of the British officers in the Boston Massacre.  He was not particularly popular for this defense, but he was firm in his desire to establish America as a colony of civilization and equality.  I admire his unwearying desire to follow his heart.

Then, of course, there are the Transcendentalists.  My fascination began with, who else, but Louisa May Alcott.  I am probably best known for my Anne of Green Gables or Harry Potter love, but I was every bit the Little Women obsessor as a child. I had the movie memorized.  I related more to Anne - the tom-boyishness nature of Jo didn't appeal to me quite as much as a child - but I saw something of myself in Jo's somewhat bossy bookish and socially awkward nature.  The older I get, though, the farther away Anne feels from me.  She spent most of her (fictional) adulthood engaged or married to the dreamboat of Gilbert.  Jo, though - Jo struggles as an adult.  The life that had been so comfortable within the walls of her own home is more difficult when she leaves it.  Finding her place in the world is tricky in a world that prescribes only one really acceptable path for a woman to follow.  Her independent spirit and unconventional path are close to me.  One of the dearest summers in my life was spent walking in the shoes of the fictional March family and studying the very real Alcotts on stage.  The symbolism of visiting PEI when I was a wide-eyed almost college Freshman compared to visiting Concord as a perpetually boyfriendless nearly 30 something is not lost on me.  It's like a passing of the torch.

I also feel a great kinship to those who came here in the first place, some of whom were my ancestors.  William Bradford, the man credited for the thought behind the Mayflower Compact, is a direct ancestor of mine. Those early Puritans were far from perfect, but I admire their determination to create an environment where they could worship (even if I don't necessarily admire all the lengths to which they went to ensure that environment). In the same way that I've always been drawn to the UK, I've long wanted to come here.  So many of my ancestors lived in New England that it feels like part of my genetic makeup, even though the total amount of time I've spent here now equates to approximately. . .five and a half hours.

Flying into the airport was delightful.  I remember being in college and having my Arizonan roommates talk about how green Utah was and the midwestern roots that I have thinking they were crazy.  Now that my parents live in Arizona I understand why they thought Utah was green.  I still feel sad for them, though - anytime I fly into a city that's as green as this one I feel like the world gets a little better.  Utah has its beauties but I do miss the green.  When that green is coupled with flecks of bright red, yellow and orange?  Exquisite.

Mom and I met up in the airport and, using public transportation navigational skills I've been honing to perfection for the last decade, we ditched the Uber idea and took the bus and train to the southern part of the city where we walked through the streets of Dorchester to our home for the week.  Now, in addition to my coveting of the trees, I am coveting every house I can see.  Who the heck ever thought it was a good idea to make every house look so freakishly practical?  I want to buy all.the.houses.  I also want to take pictures of all of them.  Hope the locals don't mind!

After getting home we dropped off our bags and walked the quarter mile or so into Addam's Square to find dinner and a convenience store to pick up food for breakfast.  We ended up finding all that we needed in an Irish cafe that sold meat pies and a whole range of British necessities at killer prices.  What with the Caramel Digestives and Irish porridge and the Big Bang Theory/Have I Got News For You TV binge mom and I had tonight, I may as well be back in Europe.  Come to find out that the local convenience store also had a huge supply of my favorite England treats - a delightful surprise that, perhaps, shouldn't have been.  As my brother pointed out, it is New England.

Tomorrow is supposed to rain all day so we'll head to church then hole ourselves away into the southern part of town and the local art museums.  Given that church is at 9:00 and about a 20 minute drive (and two hours earlier than my body clock puts it at about 7:00), you should know how much I love my mother.  If I were traveling by myself I'd probably ditch the church idea, sleep in, and watch a devotional while I ate breakfast instead.  But my mother is an amazing woman.  The chance to travel alone with her is such a gift, that if mom says she wants to go to church in the morning, then we go to church in the morning.