Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome Babies

Boston, Mass - I am thrilled to announce the arrival of my baby boys.

As a result, this blog is on hiatus until we start traveling!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day May Day

Jamaica Plain, Mass - Regular readers may recall that one of my Top Nine Things to Come Home To is the lilac trees blooming in May. 'Tis the season! Although I do enjoy the two lilacs abloom in my backyard, it's nothing compared to the blaze of 422 plants that are busting out in all shades of purple and white at the Arnold Arboretum.

Lilac Sunday at the arboretum is this Sunday, May 9, but the purple pretties are already in full bloom. If you want to see (and smell) the 200 different kinds of lilacs, go now - it's peak season!

Lilac Sunday will be filled with festivities, including living music and dance, crafts and activities for kids, and tours of the lilacs. Plus, it's the only time you can have a picnic in the park.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Patriot's Day

Lexington, Mass - The Patriots' Day celebration in Massachusetts starts early - really early. As dawn breaks, local history buffs are assembled on the Lexington village green, some decked out in `Redcoats' while others sport the scruffy attire of Minutemen, firearms in hand, ready to re-enact the fateful battle that kicked off the War for American Independence.

Massachusetts is one of only two states in the USA that recognizes Patriots' Day as a public holiday, but the Commonwealth takes it seriously. This is where the action went down on April 19, 1775. And this is where it continues to go down every year on the third Monday of April.

I was there before daybreak - along with hundreds of other eager spectators. (Note to self: next time bring a ladder.) The Minutemen hung around near Buckman Tavern and on the green, while the British Regulars assembled in a nearby parking lot. Apparently they don't make them re-enact the walk all the way from Boston.

As the sun rose, the bell rang out from the Old Belfry, and the colonial militia assembled on the green to await the arrival of the Regulars. Back in 1775, the militia men had been warned by Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, who set out from Boston the night before to spread the word. So when 700 British Regulars marched up to Lexington Green just after daybreak on April 19, they found Capt John Parker's company of 77 Minutemen lined up in formation to meet them. (Today, the Brits are represented in decidedly fewer numbers.)

The famous instructions from Capt Parker were the following: "Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

But Capt Parker was a reasonable man. When he saw how badly outnumbered were his ranks, he ordered his men to disperse peaceably. Before they could do so, the Regulars were charging forward, shouting "Huzzah!" to confuse and disarm their opponents. It worked... some of the militia men dispersed, some stayed put, some laid down their arms, some did not. As a spectator, even I was confused - and I knew what was supposed to happen! (In all fairness to me, I couldn't really see.)

Here's where history is a mystery. In the midst of the confusion, a shot rang out - from which side nobody knows.  During the re-enactment, the shot was fired from a window of Buckman Tavern, but other accounts state it came from behind a wall or a hedge. That one shot triggered others, and bayonettes, and soon eight Minutemen lay dead on the green, with 10 others wounded.

Afterwards, the British soldiers continued to nearby Concord, where growing numbers of Minutemen were able to fight them back - and indeed chased them all the way back to Boston. (The Battle of Concord is also re-enacted every year on the Saturday before Patriot's Day.) But the skirmish on Lexington Green was the first organized, armed resistance to British rule in a colonial town.

Back in Lexington in 2010, as the British troops marched off down the road, the Minuteman re-enactors came out of character and the crowds began to filter across the green, heading to Starbucks to reload on caffeine. The battle was lost, but the war would be won. It was still not even 7am, and the rest of the day would filled with pancake breakfasts and parades.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mrs Jack

Boston, Mass - As I was researching the Boston City Guide last year, I did a series of posts on Cool Boston Ladies, which included Anne Hutchinson and Mary Baker Eddy. It was a good idea, but sorely incomplete. How in the Hub could I do a series entitled "Cool Boston Ladies" and leave out Isabella Stewart Gardner?

A prominent member of Victorian-era society, this lover of art, music, gardens, travel and baseball dedicated her life to pursuing her passions - and sharing them with others. She did so by building a Venetian-style palazzo right here in Boston, filling it with priceless artwork that she had acquired on her worldwide travels, decking the courtyard with seasonal blooms, and welcoming the public into her home for concerts, exhibits and other gala affairs.

(Okay, there was no baseball at Fenway Court - as her palazzo was called - but she often donned her Red Sox hat and made her way over to Fenway Park to support the Olde Towne Team.)

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is still an exquisite way to spend a day (or an evening). I was there a few days ago to admire the Hanging Nisturtiums. Mrs Gardner's favorite flower, these orange blooms drape the courtyard every April in honor of her birthday. (She was born 170 years ago today.) The four-storey garden courtyard is always an oasis, but it was absolutly stunning in its birthday suit.

This is the first time I have been to the museum since my stint in Venice, so I was thrilled to discover how the palazzo reflects Mrs Gardner's love for La Serenissima. From the outside, the building is rather plain, so you forget that the arcaded interior evokes the Doge's Palace on the Grand Canal.

Even her art collection hints at her affinity for the Italian Renaissance. Truthfully, the artwork spans the globe, especially sculpture from Ancient Rome and Greece (the ultimate in garden art), extensive paintings by Dutch and Italian masters, and a few prominent pieces by American artists (who were her acquaintances) Sargent and Whistler. But it's clear that the art of the Renaissance captured Mrs Gardner's heart and soul - as evidenced by pieces by Giotto, Botticelli, Titian and Raphael.

Aside from the art and architecture (and music and flowers, etc etc) the Gardner Museum is all the more enticing as it is surrounded by intrigue. Exactly 20 years ago, the museum was the setting for a legendary art heist. On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers tricked the security guards and left with nearly $200 million worth of artwork. The most famous painting stolen was Vermeer's The Concert, but the loot also included three works by Rembrandt, and others by Manet and Degas, not to mention French and Chinese artifacts. The crime was never solved.

Mrs Gardner's will stipulated that the collection remain exactly as it was at the time of her death. So the walls where these paintings hung remain barren, even today. Meanwhile, the Gardner Museum continues to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the artwork. So if you have any leads, please let me know.

The palazzo at Fenway Court has remained almost exactly the same since its opening in 1903. Even after Mrs Gardner died in 1924, the museum continued to display her artwork and host concerts just as it had during her life, according to her will. Her living  quarters on the top floor were converted into administration, but little else changed.

Until now.

It's not evident from the inside, but the Gardner Museum has undertaken an enormous expansion project, knocking down the old carriage house to make way for a striking modern addition designed by Renzo Piano. It's obviously a controversial move, evoking protests from the Fenway neighborhood association and other traditionalists. But the museum administration feels the expansion is necessary to maintain the vibrancy of the institution.

Apparently the collection will remain intact, and the new space will be used for temporary exhibition space, concert hall, cafe and office space. The Massachusetts Supreme Court approved the deviation from the will, so the expansion is moving rapidly forward.

The rennovation is scheduled to be completed in 2012. So visit the palazzo now, so you can say you remember what it was like back in Mrs Gardner's day.

Photos courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bleacher Bar

Boston, Mass - As of Sunday, the action is underway at Fenway Park. Even if you can't get tickets to the big game, you can still get a peek inside America's oldest baseball park.

As of last year, Fenway opened a bar underneath the bleachers - the aptly named Bleacher Bar. It's accessible from Lansdowne Street, which means you don't need a ticket to get inside. And it has a big window looking out over centerfield (go Jacoby, baby!)

There are a few tables perched right in front of the window, so you could actually watch (part of) a game here. But the Bleacher Bar does not take reservations, so you have to get your name on a list, which starts forming around 5:00 or 5:30pm on game days. Even then, there is no guarantee you'll get the table of your choice (and seating is limited to 45 minutes anyway). The bar area is pretty big, with plenty of TVs so you won't miss any of the action.

If you dread the crowds, it's almost better to come by the Bleacher Bar when the Sox are away, when the window is open and a sweet breeze comes in straight off the field. Or, stop by in the late afternoon on game day, when you might catch some of the players warming up. When I came for lunch today, there was some stirring in the bullpen and Daisuke Matsuzaka came out to loosen up his arm.

Looking good, Dice-K, but there's no word when he'll be off the DL and back on the mound.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fiery Pool

Salem, Mass - I have the distinct pleasure of writing about a wide variety of destinations. I started this gig as a Russophile, but I have since become the go-to girl for Boston and New England, and I'm doing my best to cultivate my expertise of more tropical destinations like Belize and Brazil.

It's not immediately clear what these places have in common, but I suppose that's part of the fun.

Every once in a while, my worlds collide. That's what happened today when I was in Salem, Massachusetts, researching the new edition of  LP's guide to New England. Salem has many highlights, one of which is the excellent Peabody Essex Museum. And right now, the PEM is hosting a pretty awesome exhibit on the "Maya and the Mythic Sea".

The ancient Maya thrived throughout Central America from about 2000BC to AD1500. Their realm extended across Mexico, Guatemala and - drum roll - Belize. One of the thrills of visiting Belize today is exploring the myriad mysterious ruins left behind by this great civilization. Click to read about my experiences at Tikal in Guatemala and various sites in Belize.

The PEM exhibit compiles artefacts from all across the region, the common theme being that they all offer insights on the Maya connection with water and the sea. So you've got the figurine of the Jaguar God of the Underworld riding a crocodile; a Maya deity peeking out from through the toothy grin of a spiny lobster; many depictions of the rain god Chaahk; and (my personal favorite) a 10-pound jade sculpture of the head of the Sun God, which was excavated at Altun Ha in Belize.

The exhibit includes a few stelae, or stone carvings, which are fiberglass reproductions of the carvings at temples and tombs in Belize and elsewhere. (Truthfully, the stelae on display on site in Belize are also fiberglass reproductions, since the original pieces have been removed to protect them from the elements.)

But most of these artefacts are not on display anywhere in Belize. Maybe there are museums in Mexico or Guatemala, but Belize has no facility to protect and present these ancient, intriguing pieces. So the PEM exhibit is a real treat.

So there you have it... a little piece of Belize in New England. (Since that's the closest I'm going to get to Belize this year, I'd best enjoy it!)