Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Now on Instagram!

I am delighted to announce that Don't Look Down, Beantown is now on Instagram. You can follow along on the @dontlookdownbeantown page. There you will find much excitement; already there is the Prudential Tower, Harvard, the Charlestown skyline, and doughnuts. Here, have a quick peek:

Prudential at night

Harvard's entry/exit gateway

Charlestown skyline
I know, I know. No picture of the doughnuts. What gives? Well, it's its-own-post worthy, so I am saving it for later. And, yes, it is a continuation of my Union Square saga/quest for the glorious maple bacon doughnut (parts one and two).

Truth be told, it is the renewed inspiration and passion for this little project that I am most excited about. It is easy to fall out of the habit of keeping up, especially when life gets busy. I won't lie, though, I am a bit intimidated - there is already a countless number of talented Bostonians sharing their experiences in the Bean via Instagram. I am happy to become one, too, and hopefully prove myself a distinct voice in the crowd.

Til next time!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Suspension of Disbelief

These were taken within driving distance of the city. Within sight of the Prudential. A literal hop, skip, and jump over the Charles. 

How can this be real? Below three dollars? I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't just paid it.

Happy holiday travels, everyone.

Til next time!

Monday, October 27, 2014

BBF 2014: History, Architecture, and an Almond Croissant

Not twenty minutes ago, my fiancee and I had this conversation:

"Do you want to go out?"

"Not really. Why, do you? Want to walk around?"

"Not really. I'm kind of enjoying reading."

"Yeah. It's nice."

Reading is nice. Reading is important. If you were one of the lucky attendees of the perennially great (and free!) Boston Book Festival, then I think you left feeling the same. Reading - whether it is the latest historical tome from Doris Kearns Goodwin, the popcorn mythology of Rick Riordan, or the artistic approach to architecture from Lord Norman Foster - is incredibly important. If not because it reaffirms what is important and meaningful to you, the reader, then because it reaffirms what holds us together as a group, the general audience.

This year's festival was jam-packed with excitement. For instance, when I first arrived at Copley Square, it was with what I thought was enough time to grab a bite to eat before hopping in line to see Doris Kearns Goodwin (author of Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, No Ordinary Time, Team of Rivals, and The Bully Pulpit) speak. As is usually the case when it comes to timing my arrival to important events, I was grossly mistaken. (The less said about every major holiday of the past half decade the better.) Taking my place in line, stomach grumbling, gave me the pleasant misfortune of viewing the farthest corner of the Trinity Church away from the entrance. In other words, by the time I arrived, the line had already wrapped seventy-five percent of the way around the building.


Slowly progressing towards the entrance (or, according to my appetite, slowly abandoning my proximity to the Bon Me truck parked at the corner of Boylston and Clarendon), I paced into the Trinity Church.

First of all - Wow. Beautiful and iconic on the outside, the interior is a sight to behold. Second, what an amazing venue for a talk with a historian and, later, an architect.

Ms. Kearns Goodwin's conversation with WBUR was great. In it, she more or less revealed that she is mulling a next book on the topic of leadership, pulling from all of the previous research she has done. Earlier this year, while I was in Nashville, I had the good fortune to hear Jon Meacham (author of Franklin and Winston, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and the complicated biography of controversial American President Andrew Jackson, American Lion) speak on which attributes he would like to see the next generation of Americans exhibit: from Jefferson, curiosity; from Jackson, resilience; from Roosevelt, charm; from Churchill, courage. In this regard, I think Kearns Goodwin is almost overqualified, and I can't wait to see what comes of this next book. Per Kearns Goodwin's talk and her own work, perhaps Lincoln as a model of critical problem solving in assembling his cabinet? Johnson for social responsibility in his Civil Rights legislation? Teddy Roosevelt as a motivator? Eleanor Roosevelt as leadership itself? Of course, it's also possible Doris Kearns Goodwin is reading this, screaming "Nooooo! That's not it at all!" Apologies if I misunderstood, but I do hope (and think) I understood correctly.

Her talk concluded, there were precious few moments before Lord Norman Foster's (architect of Foster + Partners) talk began. Just enough time to run to Au Bon Pain on Boylston, grab an almond croissant (mana from heaven) and a small coffee.

And... back in my seat, underneath and consumed by the beautiful architecture of Trinity Church once more, just in time to hear Lord Foster speak. If you are unfamiliar with his work, you can see his projects here. Most notable to Bostonians is his work on the Art of the Americas expansion at the Museum of Fine Arts, which was news to me. (Whoops.) For all that I have written on the museum (probably my favorite place in the Bean), and for all of the times I have walked by the expansion, I did not know who designed it.

I have always loved the Art of the Americas expansion. Lord Foster's philosophical approach to architectural design - that you must first define your task as well as the space you are working with - can be seen on full display here in Boston. As many of us have noticed, it is the largest part of the museum to feature windows. Refusing the traditional approach to museum exteriors (my interpretation is that they use heavy stone and limited windows to reflect, to some extent, an exclusivity of knowledge at the same time that they physically protect the works within), the expansion skips to what happens inside the museum: the open conversation and beginnings of dialogue on art, history, and the humanities. To my mind, it achieves this by placing statues and art where large windows meet the ends of long hallways. The statues are instantly visible from the outside, leading you toward the hallways and, hopefully, into the museum. It effectively begins your dialogue before you even enter. Personally, I think it's genius. Of course, it's also possible Lord Foster is also reading this, screaming "Nooooo! That's not it at all!" Again, apologies if I misunderstood, but I do hope (and think) I understood correctly.

Yes, there was much more to do at the Boston Book Festival, but I was fully satisfied - amazed, really. The festival gets better every year, and in only its sixth iteration, it is hard to imagine how it could get any better. But I do know this. Its organizers are miracle workers, and if anyone can push something almost perfect nearer that ideal, it's them.

Til next time!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Boston Book Festival's One City One Story

Next week the Boston Book Festival will overtake Copley Square. Every year the city brings top talent - local, national, and international - to the public spaces that surround its historic library. Fitting, though, that a city with such literary tradition approaches this annual celebration with joy.

Even more fitting that it approaches it through the rigors of academic and literary achievement. 

The authors that speak are impressive in their own right, that is without doubt. In fact, it is refreshing to see the air of celebrity that surrounds them. Why shouldn't those who compete in the major leagues of the written word receive some adulation? Beantown has been (and still is) many things, but it nice to know that - even for a day - this town of sports, medicine, and science celebrates its status as a center of the arts.

The authors themselves, though, are not the entirety of the day, and they are not the entirety of celebrating this academic and literary legacy. That honor belongs to the organizers of the event, the annual author of the One City One Story short, and the residents of the Boston area. 

One City One Story is the city's Autumn push for literacy. Sponsored and distributed by Dunkin Donuts and Zipcar (genius! both are on every corner in the Bean), the initiative floods the city with thousands of copies of the same story. This is not simply an attempt to publicize the festival, it is instead an earnest attempt to highlight everything that the festival celebrates: the continuation of the open dialogue and exchange of information and experience that writing has given us. 

Imagine if the common thread wound through Boston for a day was a discussion on shared storytelling. Find a copy of the story at Dunkin Donuts and book stores around the city (I found mine at the Brookline Booksmith) and make it a reality!

For more information, follow the Boston Book Festival on its website here. Visiting authors this year include Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals), Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series), and over 150 more

Til next time!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Elsewheres: Nashville, TN

The thing about Wish-I-Was-There travel lists is that they never get shorter. Once the travel bug sinks its teeth into your skin there is no shaking it; you might scratch a place off of your list only to find yourself adding another ten. Just to share, my top three five are Paris, Rome, Venice, Istanbul, and Barcelona, but I also want to see Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Romania, Portugal, China, Cambodia, and Egypt (and even that is not a comprehensive list). And Iceland. Whoops. Tokyo, too.

Get my point?

I have been to plenty of places within the United States thanks to growing up with generous and adventurous parents, but there was one in particular that – until this June – I had always kept in the back of my mind: Nashville, Tennessee.

Traveling to Nashville was, for me, the completion of my Music Cities of the South trilogy. First, there was Memphis (I applied to a college there – the only one outside of New England – and therefore needed to visit), home of Sun Studios, Beale Street, and the blues. Then there was New Orleans (I attended a wedding that my now-fiancée was a bridesmaid in), home of Bourbon Street and jazz. Finally, there was Nashville (I had the good fortune to attend a conference in town), home of country music, honky tonks, and Second Fiddle. Only in retrospect have I realized this, but if you want to travel America, follow the music.

So now that my trilogy is complete, what can I conclude? Memphis had my favorite music and New Orleans had the best food, but nothing beats the downtown of Nashville. As a sum-total experience, the combination of endless live music, good local beer (Yazoo), and a close-quarter, safe downtown to cut loose in makes Nashville an experience. Like a full-immersion language program, Nashville drops you into the heart of Country Music Culture, never lets you forget where you are, and – with its fine Southern hospitality – smooth talks you into a sip of the Kool-Aid. 

You’ll leave wishing there were honky tonks wherever you’re from.

Getting downtown in Nashville is easy; it’s a relatively small pocket of blocks that starts with Tootsie’s and ends at the Cumberland River. Tootsie’s is an easy find. First of all, it is purple. Second, it is all over the promotional materials for downtown and it is pretty much always packed. Which is exactly why I avoided it, and exactly why I would recommend the place next door instead: the aptly titled Second Fiddle. I might be busting tradition (I am a known curmudgeon), but Second Fiddle is better and far less crowded, which makes it far more enjoyable. I walked into Tootsie’s, up every flight of stairs, made uncomfortable body contact with every crowd, saw that each floor was packed, and walked right out. It was a lot like being on the T, actually. Luckily for me, Second Fiddle was comfortably busy (there was actually a seat at the bar), and the music was good. I mean, it was real good. We’re talking Waylon Jennings covers that sounded like the man himself.

Whether you’re a country music fan or not, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a fantastic and worthwhile visit. There is a wealth of American history seared into its music, and the museum works equally well as a history of the genre as it does part and parcel of Americana. It revels in showing you Elvis’s gold Cadillac and Patsy Cline’s outfits while explaining the origins of country music and its place throughout the course of American history. The museum is a feat of shared storytelling, the dream of country music fans and historians alike.

And lastly, there’s the people-watching. People in Nashville are cutting loose, man. They’re dropping $500 on a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots, chasing it with a ridiculously huge belt buckle, and polishing off their stay with dance moves that run the gamut from Dancing with the Stars-level choreography to Chris Farley’s “Fat Guy in a Little Coat.” But everyone – I mean everyone – is having the time of their life doing it. Nashville has an infectious happiness. But how could it not? It is a holy city in the Tao of Country Music.

So there you have it. Nashville has a coaxing charm that is propelled by country music and the stories it tells. There was a catchy joy in knowing I was watching a lot of other people’s travel dreams come true. It was so catchy, I realized that I had really always wanted to visit myself – as I said, this was the conclusion of my Music Trilogy. 

Like the ancient Greek sirens, Nashville sings a melody into the air that will draw you in. Unlike the sirens, Nashville has no strings attached – just good times.

Til next time!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Another Mustachioed Monument

This weekend seemed a good time for the next installment of mustachioed monuments. The Boston Comic Con is in town and it has inspired me to return to some of my own illustrations. Not only that, but just this morning the New York Times featured this piece by Anand Giridharadas on the virtual landscapes of art museums, and how some are using this web-structured appeal to create exhibits like "The Mustached Men of the Met." You can only imagine how affirming this was of my pursuits here.

Now, on to the details!

The clock tower of the Customs House is one of the most recognizable landmarks of downtown Boston. (See the views from the top here.) Built atop the original building – a seeming model of Rome’s Pantheon – the tower is one of the city’s tallest.1 Because it is, too, one of the buildings that greets visitors and residents alike from 93 and is located in Boston’s heart for tourism, Government Center/Quincy Market, it is one of the city’s friendliest. Simply put, there is something exceedingly historic, recognizable, and trustworthy about its architecture.

Which is why it bears the recognizable mustache of the trustworthy Randy Price, host of the Eyeopener on WCVB Channel 5. Whether you tune in or not, he’s always there to start your day. His is the mustache of Boston’s morning bustle.

Til next time!

1. Scott. "IWalked Boston's Custom House Tower." Iwalkedaudiotours.com. IWalked, LLC, n.d. Web. 9 Aug. 2014. <http://iwalkedaudiotours.com/2011/04/iwalked-boston%E2%80%99s-custom-house-tower/>

Friday, August 1, 2014

Saccharine Sanctuary

Doughnuts have always been a safe haven for me. If I learned one thing from my Memere, it’s this: In times of trouble, there is little that they cannot solve. I also have a long family history of visiting Wells, Maine – the home of Congdon’s Doughnuts. If ever my family wakes up in Maine and there aren’t enough buttercrunch doughnuts to go round, there is hell to pay for whoever picked them up. Testament to my loyalty – even here in Boston, I subscribe to the restaurant’s (very entertaining) newsletter.

Despite being late to the game (more trend-observer than trend-setter), you can only imagine my excitement at learning of UnionSquare Donuts’ march towards Massachusetts morning pastry domination.

Good Lord, they are delicious.

Getting them, however, proved to be an adventure in itself.

Originally, I wanted to make my first purchase at the SoWa Market – I think I wrote about this a little while ago – but they were sold out. Next time.

That next time was July 2, the day my fiancée and I moved, and we kind of thought it might be fun to greet our minions/volunteers/family with a delicious selection of doughnuts. You know, just some casual maple bacons, salted caramel bourbons, and hazelnut crunches – nothing too fancy. But that got scrapped, largely because I did a terrible job of putting things in boxes throughout the preceding days. Ugh.

This past Saturday, otherwise known as Beach Day, was also intended to begin with doughnuts. And, in fact, it nearly did. After sorting out all of the necessaries for getting to Revere (buying beach chairs, getting sunscreen, and of course watching Pioneer Woman on Food Network first), Miss Beantown and I found ourselves lost in Somerville attempting to locate Union Square Doughnuts, getting nowhere in traffic, and hunting down possible parking spaces, all the while expounding upon the amount of time being spent on a tense search for pastries when the beach awaited in all of its laid-back glory.

But then!  Then the skies parted. Shop in sight, meter pumped, mouths salivating, we arrived at the tail end of a very long line. Having made plans to meet a friend at the beach, we were forced to abandon ship. And we were so close. So very, very close.

At this point, by the way, I was quite the unpleasant pheasant, thinking “These better be the best doughnuts I have ever tasted.”

The very next day we returned to the place where this quixotic saga began, the SoWa Market. Knowing to get there early, we strolled right up to the Union Square Donuts stand and calmly – very calmly, like Val Kilmer calm – ordered some as if we had done it a million times before.

Worth. The. Wait.

These doughnuts aren’t just good. They aren’t even just really good. They are incredible. And we didn’t even find the maple bacons, salted caramel bourbons, or hazelnut crunches. Instead we stumbled upon vanilla bean, strawberry, and orange creamsicle. They were huge, fluffy, doughy, tasty, ornamented treats that were more than worth the wait.

Whatever you have to do, these are not to be missed.

Til next time!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Roman Style Pizza at Scissors and Pie


Erm. Sorry.

At an earlier time in our lives, my fiancée and I spent some months apart for the very charming reason that she was studying for a semester abroad in Rome, Italy.

I made a lot of long distance international phone calls. When we talked, we talked on opposite halves of the day due to the time difference – I was usually on the PM side of things and she was early AM. To this day, I still wonder what the concierge thought of me calling at one or two in the morning local time, asking to speak with her. Oh, and we did not text. No, no. We used that archaic technology known as AOL Instant Messenger and letters (real mail!). In case you forgot (or never knew), AOL stands for America On-Line. Those were the days of the bitter end of dial up internet. And film. I’d share some of my fiancée’s pictures with you, but, you know… they actually had to be developed.

During her time in the city, however, she often raved about her incredible and inexpensive lunches. 

The way I heard it, Rome was a magical place where wine was cheaper than water, where the statues of the ancients would loiter everyday near modern café-goers, and where pizza was always fresh and purchased by weight. For reference, I was eating chicken patties.

Two of these are true of Boston, too. The Commonwealth Mall and the Common surround Bostonians with their ancestors, but did you know that there is Roman-style pizza – fresh and sold by weight – to be found in Beantown, as well?

Recently written up in the Globe, Scissors and Pie is one of Back Bay’s newest eateries [225 Newbury Street]. Stumbling upon it one day on a walk, we decided to stop in. Even before the first bite, I knew I would like it. The toppings were clearly fresh, the crust had the right (and visible) balance of crisp and poof, and the smell was just perfect. The true test, of course, was to come. What would my fiancée – so experienced in the art of Roman-style pizza – think of our slices? 

In short, she loved it.

Scissors and Pie is not a restaurant, it is a portal across the Atlantic. It is Star Trek teleportation and Harry Potter wizardry made real. Its doorway doesn’t take you to “another pizza joint,” it takes you to Rome. To me, that is priceless. Finally, we are able to share at least this small piece of that ancient city. For that reason, thank you Scissors and Pie.


Til next time!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SoWa Market

If you haven’t eaten from a Boston food truck yet (where have you been), and you are still curious (you’ll be glad you are), there are more than enough to try at the SoWa market [Harrison Street, South End]. Featuring nearly twenty trucks, the court does not want for variety. There are crepes, ice cream, burgers, Vietnamese sandwiches, sushi, tacos, etc. If you like it, you can buy it from a truck, and that alone is worth the experience.


Held every weekend, the SoWa open air market features some of Boston’s finest crafters, arts community, foodies, and vegetable farmers. A homegrown mix of vintage goods, fresh pickle spears, and pets on parade, it is a hybrid craft fair, flea market, and FOOD Network competition elevated to the nth.

My notables from this weekend included:

The best $6 sandwich you will find in Boston – not just at the market, but in the city – is from Bon Me. There is no substitute for a delicious toasted sub roll filled with Chinese pork and a spicy pickled veggie slaw. In the three times now that I’ve been to the market, I always say I’ll try something new, and then I realize I can’t bear the thought of not eating from Bon Me. Oh, and don’t forget to wash it all down with their fresh basil limeade.

Fiber and Water sells burlap wall art and pillow covers. Featured in Fenway’s West Elm [160 Brookline Ave] just a few months ago, they do Boston proud with a large line of city-themed prints.

Any place that caters to four-legged friends is a winner, of course. There was an incredible selection of leashes, collars, and other dog accessories. Naturally, many were Boston-themed, as well, so if you have been looking for that Red Sox leash and just haven’t found it, this is the place.

I wouldn’t know about Union Square Donuts, because they sold out two hours before close. But let’s be honest, is there any way you can go wrong with a place that sells Sea Salted Bourbon and Maple Bacon donuts? Maybe you’re like me, and you have already concluded that this is worth visiting the home shop [16 Bow Street, Somerville].

A few years ago I visited New Orleans, and I delightedly stated my opinion that the best iced coffee the world (that I have traveled to) has to offer can be found at Royal Blend in the French Quarter. Well, guess what? That New Orleans cold-brewing style and secret “elixir” has been brought to Boston, courtesy of moJo.

These selections are a mere sampling of what is available at the SoWa market. Head over there yourself to find out what your notables are. Between the food, coffee, art, and vintage goods, you are bound to find something.

Til next time!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Panda City, USA

We’ve all seen the ads. They cover the billboards on the way into the city. They are plastered up at bus and T stops. Commercials are peppered throughout our morning news shows and favorite evening programs. The Museum of Science has single-handedly transformed Boston into Panda City, USA.

Hosted at the Mugar Omni Theater, the film documents the introduction of pandas into their natural habitat, covering everything from their conception, birth (which will be difficult to forget, by the way), nursing, and… two words… panda kindergarten. There is nothing else in this world quite like panda kindergarten. Only the Puppy Bowl can approach it in terms of raw cuteness.

The real stars of the show, however, are the people who work with the pandas, and you would never guess what fills up their days. Would you reply to this ad listing? Full time animal worker needed. Looking for someone unafraid of smelling like a bear, dressing like a bear, and taking cubs from mama bears. Also, bear kindergarten. Okay, the first three points sound stressful and/or dangerous, but think about that last point. It’s basically Kung Fu Panda, but baby pandas.

Dream. Job.

That’s what this movie is all about.

As an alternative to a feature film, consider finding your way to the Mugar Omni Theater at the Museum of Science. If the runtime for Pandas: The Journey Home is concerning (less than an hour), consider this: if you would pay just under $20 for a two hour 3D IMAX movie at AMC, why not pay half that for half the runtime? Point being, if you look at it proportionately, your hard-earned money is being stretched the same distance. Also, as always, it starts with this:

Til next time!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Bakeries

It was the best of pastries, it was the best of pastries.

When it comes to dessert shops, Boston is a city of cannoli, cupcakes, and fro-yo. While delicious, additional variety is always appreciated. If, like me, you have been craving a sweet outside of those three types, here are two (among many) wonderful and unique recommendations. 

Yesterday for breakfast I hoofed it over to Patisserie, a French bakery in Back Bay [257 Newbury St.], and oh man, the place is a wonderland of bread and pastries. Before your eyes can adjust from the outdoors to the incandescent lighting of the basement storefront, you’ll already be immersed in the scent of fresh baked bread. It’s like you’re Hansel/Gretel and you just walked into a store built of the goods it sells. I found myself wanting to buy it all – a pastry for now, a baguette for lunch, and desert for the evening.

Thunderstruck by the selection, I paced the display cases (probably babbling) for far too long before I left with a cup of coffee and an almond croissant. Can I just say something? The almond croissant was amazing. For under $5 you can treat yourself to one with a coffee, and I highly recommend it – I don’t think you will regret it, and I know that I will be back. Patisserie is a must visit.

Speaking of must visits, have you been to Japonaise, the French-Japanese bakery in Brookline [1020 Beacon St.] and Cambridge [1815 Mass Ave]? On record, this place is incredible and the pastries will astound you. If you have never had an anpan, it should now be a priority.

What is an anpan, you may ask. Simply put, it’s delicious. The pastry itself is a sweet dough filled with red bean paste. In appearance, you’d be forgiven for describing it as a kind of jelly doughnut, but there has never been a jelly doughnut that tasted this good. I think your taste buds will find that the two are incomparable. In fact, grabbing an anpan at the Brookline location has become a ritual to coincide with a weekend walk to Coolidge Corner. It, along with a small cup of coffee, can be yours for just about $5, and it will make your afternoon.

So there you have it: two amazing bakeries, each one highlighting a delectable pastry done right. 

Happy snacking!

Til next time! 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Assembly Row Assembled

If you are a frequent commuter into and out of the city, then you have likely noticed the painted brick mural of Assembly Square in Somerville. Long in development, Assembly Row – the retail/living area modeled on a downtown – is now officially open for business.

Though this weekend plays host to the Grand Opening duties, the square was fully operational last weekend - and not only was Assembly Row open, there was plenty of public for it to be open to. I have never seen a J.P. Licks so packed, and, even more impressively, the line outside of the LEGO creation station (Store? Attraction? It is so many things all in one) would have made Legoland itself blush. But why not? What are LEGOs if not our ability to personally create our own world brick by brick? Certainly that makes Assembly Row a fitting location for such a place.

Fret not, however, there is more to the area than retail opportunity. There are numerous delicious-looking restaurants. Better yet, there’s a bandstand, movie theater, and river view park, all of which are certain to continue the push for the arts that the rest of Somerville has been making lately. It would be great to see a homespun gallery or two pop up in some of those retail fronts that are still being finished.

Architecturally, Assembly Row is more dynamic than expected, too. From materials to patterns, the faces of each building stand out from one another. Planned downtowns like this often run the danger of blending into a forgettable vanilla (nothing planned all at once could meet the eclectic nature of, say, Government Center here in Boston or the French Quarter in New Orleans), but Assembly Row avoids just such a pitfall. It has personality. Particularly the Legal Sea Foods.

All in all, Assembly Row is proving to live up to its promise. It is a fun, inviting place to eat and play, and – I would assume – to live, especially once that T-stop gets finished up.

Til next time!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flapjacks and Formula 1

One of the ways that I gauge my evolution from caveman to man is by looking at the time at which I wake up in the morning. I have steadily progressed from a sunny oh-let’s-say-ahem-eleven-ahem to a before-dawn-to-dawn quarter of six. Weekends are a different story, though. Weekends are for sleeping in.

Except this weekend.

This Sunday I dragged myself out of bed at 7:00 am. Why would I do something so barbaric, you ask? Because it was the Monaco Grand Prix! After missing it for the past few years, I was determined to catch the race.

A race-watch, though, must be treated as a full-on sporting event. This is the Monaco Gran Prix! It’s the homeopener of the Formula 1 world.  It deserved to be treated the way we do our favorite events – with snacks!

Snacks that early are tough to pull off, so instead I opted for a hearty breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, and yogurt – oh my! Lucky for me, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.

It felt fitting that the very same event that Europe’s most-bourgeois of the bourgeoisie celebrate with the finest vintages of wine and luxury yachts (do you think they get yacht envy?) was accessible to me in Boston over a course of scrambled eggs and Aunt-Jemima-laden pancakes. Perhaps the zillionaires were enjoying mimosas and something edibly expensive for breakfast. I don’t know why, but I picture people that rich looking like 18th Century aristocrats (wigs and all) – just sunbathing on modern yachts. It makes no sense, but that’s my imagination for you.

If you would like to follow along with the next Formula 1 race, you can easily do so. The next race is even within a timezone native to the Western Hemisphere! Canada will be hosting its Grand Prix on June 8. You can check the schedule here.

Til next time!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Boston's World War II Memorial

I grew up in a storytelling family. 

I think if you did too, you’ll understand just how near and dear to your heart those stories can become. Though my heritage is mostly French Canadian, the eighth of me that hails from Ireland understands that some of those tales had – and still have – more than a touch of the Irish in them. 

Those stories evolved over time. They became a little bit more exaggerated and, in some cases, they became a bit more irreverent, but they have always been played for the memory and a laugh.

Sometimes there is far more truth in the emotional reaction you’ll have to an exaggerated story than can be found in a more precise and detailed account. Think of it this way: a joke that gets overly technical or too detailed loses its humor. It’s the same with family history – fudging the details a bit allows your family to preserve the experience.

But what do you do when you have nothing to go on?

This is the dilemma that I face on both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.

Both of my grandfathers served in World War II, and my family has a few items to the effect: a folded American flag, two discharge forms, and a picture or two.

What we lack is everything else. We have no letters, no exchanges, no correspondence. In other words, we have no story. And though I would like to know, I know that I don’t have to.

I don’t think this is uncommon. For many families out there, World War II was an era of great impact – one that shaped families dramatically and immediately. And there are parts of it that many families decided they didn’t want to define their narrative. Perhaps the best definitions of my grandfathers are the ones that they chose for themselves: their families, their homes, their work, and every story they chose to tell and re-tell.

With that in mind, I certainly have my own imagination and a few clues to go on, but my grandfathers’ legacies are those of everyone remembered today – not only what they did in their service, but what came of their service: the lives we lead now and the stories we tell to define them.

Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to all service members past and present.

Til next time!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sweet Cheap Eats -- Masa, South End

If it seems an age-old battle, I think it’s because it is: for me, cost is everything, but for my fiancée, it all comes down to experience.

Case in point: the many glamorous bars and restaurants in Back Bay and Downtown. Getting a delicious sangria with a small portion of food in a hip atmosphere is worth $80 to my fiancée. I, on the other hand, refuse to pay $8 per taco (very seldom do I draw the line on an issue, but this is one that I won’t back down from). That one taco is more expensive than a burrito at El Pelon, and trust me, it’s the most amazing burrito there is.

But don’t I want to have fun?

Just for the record: In the ten years we’ve been together, I have always loved fun.

Fun to me, however, has an opportunity cost (quite possibly the only thing that I remember from economics). That is, should it create sufficient anxiety over the other things prohibited by its expense, I would rather move on to the next best alternative. For example, $45 is three-quarters of the way to two seats at a Red Sox game. It’s dinner and a movie – almost – in the Fenway neighborhood. Make it $80, and it’s groceries.

I’m getting carried away. The point is we were ecstatic to find Masa [439 Tremont St.] in the South End, because on Saturdays and Sundays, they have an $8 two-course brunch.

First – and they don’t tell you this, but it really does happen – they bring you a basket of two kinds of corn bread and three spreads. You can put maple butter on blue-corn bread. Or jam on yellow-corn bread. Etc. etc. It was a delicious surprise, especially because I love corn bread, and because it is so good for you. (Maybe? I hope.) Corn may be a grain, I know, but it will always be my vegetable of choice.

For the “first” course (second, with bread), there’s granola with yogurt or milk, fresh fruit, or a caramelized plantain empanada. Riding my eight dollars all the way to the bank, I of course went with the empanada. I was not let down.

My fiancée ordered the fruit, which was indeed fresh and looked yummy, but my mouth was full of empanada, so I didn’t try it.

Last, our second courses arrived. Southwestern eggs benedict for myself, served over Southern style biscuits, and huevos rancheros for my fiancée. You literally cannot go wrong with either choice. The portions were full-size, too – I don’t think we ate for another 10 hours after we left.

The best part? It was a great experience in a neighborhood in which we don’t spend much time. And our bill came in under $20. The meal was so good, and the experience was so fun, though, that I would have paid more.

Oh man… she’s right.

Why does she always do that?

Til next time!

Monday, May 12, 2014

If It's Free It's for Me

Whenever we go out shopping, my fiancée tends to laugh at me. I have this habit of finding one of two things in any store. Books and free stuff. Even in a home decorating store like West Elm, I’ll pick up the books being used as display items and flip through them. Yes, I’ll even pick up books whose sole reason for existence is to take up space (artfully arranged space, but still). What can I say? I appreciate curtains, but on the whole, I like reading more. I also like discounts.

No so long ago, while walking through Harvard Square, I spotted an odd stack of cardboard boxes labelled “free.” Interested yet leery, I approached slowly. Definitely intrigued, predictably self-conscious, and oddly suspicious of malfeasance, I gradually arrived at the boxes of freebies.

And I was sincerely excited that I did so.

Wrapped up in plastic cellophane, there were stacked before me hundreds of promotional releases of The Hope We Seek by Rich Shapero and an accompanying CD, Songs from the Big Wheel by Rich Shapero with Marissa Nadler. All of a sudden, Robert DeNiro’s voice from Silver Linings Playbook was in my head telling me that it’s a sin to not take these opportunities when life reaches out with them. Er... wrong context.

And then, I had a real epiphany. Maybe it's not the wrong context. I mean, this is a promotional release, right? What if I blogged about it? What if I reviewed it? What if my review launched me into the stratosphere of online Beantown bloggers? What if I started receiving more promotional materials? What if I got an advance copy of Stephen King’s next book? I write about Maine a lot! It could happen!


What if I start getting invited to Red Sox games? What if they want me to do more Mustachioed Monuments of Fenway Park? What if I throw out the first pitch? What if I mess it up?


What if the Improper Bostonian calls? What if the Boston Globe calls? What if they get in a bidding war on a weekly piece called “Don’t Look Down, Beantown”? What if I write for both of them?


What if I just took this awesome freebie at face value?


At this point, I had been standing there long enough for the people at Au Bon Pain to start noticing, and for me to start stress sweating.

But crashing back down to reality wasn’t so bad, really, because I was plus my free book. I’ll review it for you when I can, but - fair warning - I already have maybe ten unread books in my possession, so it could be awhile.

Til next time!