Sunday, January 17, 2016

Boston's Dessert

Two or three years ago now, my family and I went on a haunted tour of the Boston Common. On it, we were allowed to peer into times gone by: we marveled at the former site of the hanging tree, we were awed by the burial grounds nearby the Boylston T-stop, and we shuddered in fear in front of the Omni Parker House's haunted mirror.

And then we hit the bar.

No offense to the ghost tour - which was fun and very well-done - but the most terror-stricken event of the evening was, actually, something that did not happen.

Nobody was interested in dessert. We had just discovered - amongst the corpses, phantasms, and hauntings that lingered like a miasma over our evening - that the birthplace of the Boston cream pie was the Omni Parker House, whose bar we were currently sitting in!

And no one was interested in dessert?! As if some hackneyed doughnut version of the dessert - the only version of it any of us had ever known - had satisfied a lifetime of itches for a pudding-filled cake topped in chocolate? If you had just discovered that Spaghetti-Os were inspired by a real pasta dish and a traditional sauce that can date back centuries, wouldn't you want to try that dish? Wouldn't you want to know what the recipe, free from the mass-manufacturing mechanisms of modern food, would be like?

Even my mother - an eternal champion of  all things pastry, the parent whose genome passed to me my sweet tooth - was "full".

For some ridiculous reason, I felt compelled not to order desert.

Now, finally, I have returned to the Omni Parker House, I have ordered my dessert, and I loved it. A Boston cream pie will cost $9, but it would make for an excellent dessert-date, if that kind of thing appeals to your and/or your loved one. Or, think of it this way: Boston's current gourmet dessert scene is heavily restricted to cupcakes and frozen yogurt, both of which tally in anywhere from $3 to $7 per, particularly when forced to pay by weight and topping count, At that rate, a one-of-a-kind original desert with deep ties to local history, served in a place that exudes local history, is a downright bargain at $9.

So, please, enjoy it now; just because something is worth the wait, doesn't mean you have to.

Til next time!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pinterest Is a Beast

Oh. My. God.

We actually did a project that we found on Pinterest.

We are the one percent. The one percent of Pinterest users that will complete a project that they pin. It's not the same one percent as, say, possessing absurd sums of money - like, Scrooge McDuck sums of money - but it is a prestigious classification nonetheless. I'll wear it like a badge. Which I will, of course, take pictures of and pin.

Using this clever Ikea hack from the Hunted Interior, we painted a larger kitchen cart and added wine box drawer fronts.

Honestly, the biggest difficulties we faced were logistics outside of the project itself. Namely, we tried to buy the kitchen cart on tax-free weekend, otherwise known as the state of Massachusetts's invitation to render Ikea a nigh-insurmountable bastion of havoc and ridiculousness. Which is all to say that one chaotic trip to Ikea later, we had to order it online. The only other challenge came from procuring wine boxes. Most liquor stores within the city were not amenable to sharing. The word "priceless" was used at least once. Larger chains in the suburbs - Chestnut Hill, naturally (ironically?) - had no reservations when it came to abandoning these rare wares.

Oh, and we had some help from a certain Lucy from Boston, who just couldn't resist dipping her feet in a can of mint-green paint, leading to this moment of extreme displeasure:

Til next time!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hokusai Has Left the Building

If I'm being honest, he actually left quite a while ago. Eek. Timeliness.

In the interim, though, there are three things about Hokusai and the era in which he lived that have resonated with me.

First, woodblock printing is a daunting task. It's no secret that I have spent a great deal of time in the Museum of Fine Arts. Most of that time has been spent admiring the layered brushstrokes and combinations of colors, all-out awed by their composition and the creation of a masterful image that I know I could never do.  In addition to the attention paid to layering and colors, there is a spatial component to woodblock printing, too. The woodblocks themselves must be created as the mirror of the intended image and each color must be placed on its own woodblock in such a way that it perfectly lines up with the entirety of the image. Short of automation, it is difficult to conceive of how this process can take place. Of course, others are taking up its preservation (and using Mario Kart as the inspiration to do it, no less!).

More than printing with woodblocks, Hokusai worked in other art forms - and very commercial ones at that. Many even link Hokusai's popularity outside of his home country to the opening of Japan to Western markets in 1853, a time period marked by surges in popularity of Japanese art, commercial and fine, in the United States and Western Europe. Kind of like Egyptomania. With trade opened, though not entirely voluntarily, the road was paved for Japanese goods to reach American and European consumers. I can't say for sure that collectors would have received any Hokusai-designed, ready-to-assemble dioramas, but if they had, they must have been fascinated by them. They are incredibly detailed recreations of slice-of-life moments that tell imaginative stories. For example, the one shown below depicts a brawl at the local watering hole. Others, of course, told more substantial stories, local mythology included.

(If I had one regret surrounding the Hokusai exhibit, it is that not a single reprint of these dioramas was available for purchase at the gift shop.)

Lastly, there's a lot to learn from Hokusai and the period he lived in. These items that were freely available to the contemporary middle class and international markets are now pieces with a large, discerning audience the world over, works housed in a literal museum of fine arts. (I went on the last day of the exhibit, a day that saw long lines and crowds packed to bursting.) What, of the billions of goods around us, will become art? And why? Who would have known we'd enter a Mad Men-infused resurgence in advertising from our mid century? Who could have predicted that the Golden Age of comic books (though I love them) would have created one of today's most competitive collector's markets?

I'm not saying we should all throw a used Dunkin cup in a shadow box and put it on our walls (it will be art in two hundred years, anyway -- just try not to be so hipster about it), but I left the Hokusai exhibit itching to explore our everyday and find a way to better appreciate the objects with which we fill it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"The Right Mix of American History and High-Tech"

Yes, the title of this post is actually a quote. It is a very interesting one, though, in that it comes from a video game designer working on a new AAA production set in the city of Boston. When asked why the upcoming Fallout 4 would be set in Boston, Todd Howard replied that the city had "the right mix of American history and high-tech" (reported by Gamespot).i

It raises an interesting point. American history surrounds us, particularly for those of us zipping around Government Center and Beacon Hill. But just how "techy" is Boston?

Pretty techy.

Well, let's clarify. The most sweeping statistic comes from the March 13 "State of Technology" report by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council: the tech industry supports 20% of the state's workforce (reported by the Boston Globe).ii If that number doesn't shock you outright, imagine it went away -- that would be a doubling of double-digit unemployment. This industry (how very broad that term is) is hallowed ground for Massachusetts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of these jobs are centered, more or less, in Boston and Cambridge. The largest frequencies show up in the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua and Boston-Cambridge-Newton corridors.iii

More importantly, though, tech is here to stay. A 2013 article from the Boston Business Journal reports that the tech sector in Boston is one of the highest growing in the country. In that year, tech employees in this area saw a salary jump of 7% to an average of $94,742iv - close to three times my salary. I'd take it.

It's not just the salaries, though, that will keep technology rooted in the Boston area. It's the education and the housing, too. The Boston Redevelopment Authority recently released a report investigating whether or not there is a "brain drain" in the city. Citing a 2013 Northeastern University study (among many other universities around the world), "Talent Magnets - Cities and Universities Building the Workforce for the Knowledge Economy," the BRA found that Boston retains just under fifty-percent of its college graduates.iv For a city with as many colleges and universities as Boston, fifty-percent sounds good enough, but it does not match other cities that contributed to the report. Case in point, Barcelona retains seventy-percent of its graduates. However, the BRA found that among American cities, Boston has the fourth-highest population of people ages 20-34 with college degreesv, despite a quick web search (Wiki, naturally) revealing that Boston is only the 24th largest U.S. city.

In summary, then, the Boston-Cambridge region is home to a proportionately  large concentration of college-educated 20-34 year-olds, many of them in a still-growing technology industry that (already!) represents about a fifth of the Massachusetts workforce.

Housing, a perennial issue here, is at play, too. Rising rental prices have effectively priced-out many Bostonians, but it is true that an income of $94,742 could make even the one-bedrooms offered by the Viridian for $2,900 in Fenway work; the astronomical $3,325 for a one-bedroom at the Van Ness in Fenway might require a second income. It's not that simple, I know, particularly with the taxes paid in the state, but the numbers do seem to make it work.

So, is Boston really as techy as Fallout 4's developer says? Yes, it is. Will it remain that way? Yes, it certainly seems it will. Through a combination of rising tech salaries, a field that represents 20% of the state's workforce centered largely in the area, a 50% retention rate of college grads, and a housing market geared towards the salaries commanded by the industry, Boston seems as if it will remain a tech city for years to come.

Of course, I should add that this is all speculative. Yes, it is based on numbers from reasonable and trustworthy sources, but it doesn't speak at all towards lived experience. Ask a recent grad about his or her life in the tech industry and perhaps it's full of all the foibles and shenanigans the rest of us face, too.

Til next time!

Makuch, Eddie. "Why Fallout 4 Is Set in Boston." GameSpot. CBS Interactive Inc, 17 June 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
ii Adams, Dan. "Report: Mass. Tech Sector Flourishing, but Challenges Ahead." Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
iii "Boston Area Employment - January 2015 : New England Information Office : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
iv Resende, Patricia. "Boston Tech Salaries Get 7 Percent Boost - Boston Business Journal." Boston Business Journal. American City Business Journals, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 June 2015.
Lima, Alvaro, et al. Retaining Recent College Grads in Boston: Is There a Brain Drain? Rep. Boston: Boston Redevelopment Authority/Research Division, 2014. <>

Monday, June 15, 2015

Portraits of Statues

Once again, it is the Instagram account that has been receiving the bulk of my attention lately. What with all of this wedding planning, it has become so easy to slip into a photo-taking pattern and out of a post-writing one. Perhaps I'll wander my way back soon. (Only 40 days to go!) 

Onto the photos, then! Today's theme: portraits at the museum.

Til next time!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Looking Up

If you are so inclined, enjoy these dispatches from the Instagram account. Feel free to follow @dontlookdownbeantown on Instagram to get regular updates. In the meantime, here are some pics that are looking up.

Til next time!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The House that Blues Built

Sometimes I forget how important music is. Besides a commute, it can be difficult to find the time for it. And despite the fact that it makes things like doing dishes, folding laundry, and cleaning the apartment more pleasant, I forget to put it on. All. The. Time.

But honestly, is there anything that Ray Charles, Amy Winehouse, and B.B. King can't make easier? No, there really isn't. Like the powers granted to super heroes through such bizarre instances as being bitten by a radioactive spider or getting trapped in a gamma explosion, good music can make light work of anything. Put on an excellent playlist and run a marathon. Play Taylor Swift and get over a breakup. See what I mean? Super powers. Of course there is more to it than that, but finding the right inspiration -- and one that can get stuck in your head and help you battle back against any obstacles, at that -- is an excellent first step.

So where is the best place to get this experience in Boston? The House of Blues, of course. Even in a packed house with a standing room only ticket, everyone gets a great view. Actually, standing room only is, to me, a richer experience than sitting in this particular venue. And though I am not an expert in anything acoustical, I think the House of Blues sounds good from every location I have stood in. Maybe this just means it's loud, but in all locations and in all ways, I have always been very pleased by the sound.

Last week, my fiancee and I saw Matt Kearney at the House of Blues. On tour to promote the release of his new album Just Kids, Kearney's show was a sell-out. It was also spectacular -- drawing on the right balance of known hits and newer releases. If you are a fan of his, I would recommend his new CD, and if you haven't heard of him, why not give it a try?

The building itself, though, is a mainstay of Landsdowne Street. Clearly the street's primary and most well-known occupant is Fenway Park, but it is a testament to the House of Blues that Landsdowne would be greatly lessened in character and culture if ever B.B. King's venture were to move. The decorations, details, and adornments within create the same sense of cultural mix and clash that the venue experiences weekly with the variety of music and sound it hosts. In the same way that Fenway Park brings everyone together in one Red Sox uniform, the House of Blues hosts people whose love falls under the banner term of music, but it is a venue wholly without uniform. Fenway and the House of Blues are two sides of the same coin. And, not coincidentally, they are the two sides of Landsdowne. 

Til next time!