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Update to the Boston To Do List

Our time in Boston is quickly coming to an end, which means I have very little time left to get through this list. I keep thinking of more things I want to do, but I’ve accepted that this list will go unfinished. 

Here’s what I’ve accomplished from the original list.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -

Look at this courtyard. This alone is worth the visit. In fact, I spent most of my time here and in the ground floor rooms around it. My favorite thing besides the courtyard was the Spanish cloister. The hall is lined with 2000 painted tiles that Gardner’s artist friend, Dodge Macknight, brought her from Mexico. Gardner installed the tiles herself.

Peabody Museum - I visited on a whim one afternoon and learned about Harvard’s Native American history. The college’s 1650 founding charter states it will educate "English & Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge: and godliness.” The first brick building on campus was the Harvard Indian College. Only five or six names of Native American students who attended the college are certain; only Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck graduated, and he died of tuberculosis a year later. His classmate, Joel Iacoomes, was to be valedictorian that year, but died before graduation. In 2011, Harvard awarded him a posthumous degree. 

 Sonic Arboretum

Sonic Arboretum

Institute of Contemporary Art - we went on the last day of the “When the Stars Began to Fall: Imagination and the American South” and the “Sonic Arboretum” exhibits. I went for the Stars exhibit, but I loved the Arboretum, which was a room full of these horn speakers playing an Andrew Bird composition. Also fun: the hallway overlooking the harbor and the living room-sized elevator. 

Whale-watching - I audited a marine biology class this semester, and as the year-end field trip, we went whale-watching. Last semester, I went on a field trip to a chocolate factory, and now, whale-watching. Field trips are really cool at Harvard. 

We saw one Sei whale. Apparently they are a rare sight.

Christian Science Plaza - I still have some exploring to do here, but we did go on the Mapparium tour. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s really bizarre and wonderful. The tour takes you into the three-story, stained glass globe of the world as it was in 1935. There’s a light show, which means various parts of the globe light up as you hear “welcome” in different languages. This sounds cheesy, and it is a little bit, but it’s still presented in a way that made me a little teary-eyed.

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - I almost gave up on this when we went to look for it. It’s described as “easy to miss.” That is true. If you’re looking for this plaque, it’s in the low, stone wall near the entrance of the park, in between Puopolo and Langone Parks. If you’re looking at the bocce pits with your back to the street, it’s on the right. 

So that’s about six things out of twenty on the list.

But I've also done things that weren’t on the list, like biking to Walden Pond and swimming in it again, even though it was breath-takingly cold; ringing the bells in the Lowell House bell tower (“houses” are where the students live, but you would never call these accommodations “dorms”); handling Ansel Adams prints in one of the libraries; and spending an hour in a Harvard art museum study room with my favorite images, Andre Kertesz’s “Chez Mondrian.” And then there are new things I’ve learned about that should go on the list, like visiting Spot Pond in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, or the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, or taking a ferry to one of the Harbor Islands. 

We have visitors this weekend, which usually means more sight-seeing… and maybe tackling a few more of these “To-Dos.” For those with Boston experience, I welcome any suggestions on the one thing we have to do before we leave. 

On Serendipitous Travel Moments, or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

For one of the classes I’m auditing this semester, I’ve been reading Henry Brooks Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and though he worked as private secretary to his ambassador father, wrote, and taught at Harvard, in reading his autobiography, you get the sense that he never really did anything.  He did marry, and his wife, Marian (“Clover”) committed suicide by drinking photo developing chemicals. You don’t learn about this in his book, because he doesn’t mention Clover or her death at all. 

Although Adams didn’t talk about his wife’s death, he commissioned a statue in her memory (Atlas Obscura has a great post about the memorial). Today, you can visit the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C. We spent a few days in Washington over our spring break. I thought about looking for the statue, but spent the time visiting museums and friends instead.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

 Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

A few years ago, I arrived in San Francisco for a work trip on the last day of the Garry Winogrand exhibition at SFMoMA. I dropped my bags at a friend’s and ran over there for the last few hours of the show. What I didn’t realize (because again, no planning) was that it was also the last day the art museum would be open for the next three years, so admission was free and there were activities (like hat making) happening around the building. I saw the Winogrand, and as the museum closed, watched a dance performance in the lobby.

I love incidents like this. I could have planned for either of them (we know I need to work on my planning). But if I figure out where the thing is, how to get to the thing, and if the thing will be open, that seems like enough planning ahead. I like going out to see what I can find — or what will find me. 

I want to be a Mardi Grasdian

Many years ago, in junior high in Dallas, my history teacher asked why a classmate was absent.

“She’s at Mardi Gras,” another student said.

“Well, that’s not an excused absence.”

“Uh, yeah it is,” the student said. “It’s for religious reasons! She’s… Mardi Grasdian."

I didn’t understand Mardi Gras before I lived in New Orleans. The king cakes I’d tried were unimpressive, and the rest of it had a “Girls Gone Wild” feel. It didn’t help that my only pre-New Orleans Mardi Gras experience was during my freshmen year at college in St. Louis (home of the second biggest Mardi Gras in the U.S.), where it was freezing and I saw breasts. Yes, those are my two take-aways. There was also a parade.

And then, in 2006, I moved to New Orleans to work with the St. Bernard Project and had my first New Orleans Mardi Gras. As the (volunteer) volunteer coordinator, I had a second job waiting tables. The restaurant was on Bourbon Street, and everyone worked the five days leading up to Fat Tuesday. When New Orleans journalist Chris Rose says, "Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge,” that is true, unless you’re working in the French Quarter with the tourists (you should read that column in full. Also, to get a sense of the mess of Katrina, you should read Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic. I’ve just finally bought it.) 

Drunks and rowdiness and waiting tables and all, I still loved it. I loved it because it was more than one parade on one day. It was a whole new world of my 60-year-old landlady-housemate and her costume trunk; it was Mardi Gras decorations popping up weeks before that big Tuesday, on pristine houses in the Garden District and on FEMA trailers in St. Bernard; it was learning about krewes and Mardi Gras ladders and Zulu coconuts and buying lots of king cakes because actually, they are delicious. Just read the Chris Rose column. That’s about it. 

I would like to go back and do Mardi Gras properly. I would also like to go to everyone else’s Mardi Gras/Carnaval/Fasnacht/Fasching. I have been missing Mardi Gras since 2008 and trying to create some Mardi Gras spirit wherever I am. Last year, we stumbled on a parade in Galveston, Texas, which was a pleasant surprise. We also went to a crawfish boil at Selena’s in Louisville. 

 Mardi Gras parade in Galveston, TX

Mardi Gras parade in Galveston, TX

This year, to brighten up the New England winterscape, I made my first king cake and listened to a Spotify Mardi Gras playlist. (This is the recipe I used.) Today, like every year, I am wearing my Mardi Gras-colored tie of beads. These are sad substitutes — there’s not even a baby in the cake. Yet as an aspiring Mardi Grasdian, the least I can do is remind you that it’s not just any Tuesday.

Happy Mardi Gras, friends. Keep your shirts on. They throw the beads anyway.

The Boston To Do List

I work better with deadlines and best when the deadline is near. We are now into the second part of the Nieman year, and while it’s too soon to say the end is near, it’s getting nearer. To make sure I see more of Boston while we live here, I’ve put together my Boston To Do List. Most of the destinations came from paging through Maria T. Olia’s “Little Black Book of Boston."

Museums (there are many)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - When we moved, this was a top recommendation. I’ve saved museums for winter... so now.

 Chihuly at the MFA

Chihuly at the MFA

Peabody Museum - I walked by this museum nearly every day last semester, but I have yet to visit it.

Harvard Semitic Museum - ditto

Museum of African American History 

Institute of Contemporary Art 

Gordon Parks exhibition at the MFA - I’ve been to the MFA twice. At $25, it’s pricy, but your ticket is good for a second visit in the next 10 days. It’s free after 4 pm on Wednesdays and stays open until 9:45.

JFK Presidential Library and Museum - After visiting the LBJ library last year, we would now like to visit every presidential library. Their main exhibition halls are under renovation until mid-March, so I’ll wait until spring.

Robert Klein Gallery 

Paul Revere House 

Ship-related Activities (and actual ships)

Boston Tea Party ship and museum 

USS Constitution

Whale watching - after the seasickness on the boat to Provincetown, I’m concerned about how this will go. I figure I’ll take some Dramamine and ask someone to wake me up if there are whales. 

Libraries and churches

Boston Public Library -  It’s supposedly beautiful and I see there’s an exhibition on maps from imaginary literary landscapes opening today. 

Trinity Church and Old South Church - these are both at Copley Square by the library and were recommended in the guide book, so I figure I’ll just pop in and take a look. 

Christian Science Plaza, Mother Church, and the Mary Baker Eddy Library - the plaza looks lovely (maybe better in spring and summer), the church has one of the largest pipe organs in the world (13290 pipes), and there's a three-story stained glass globe (there’s a Groupon for it right now)

Boston athenaeum and skin book - Thanks to recent visitors, I’ve learned that the Boston athenaeum has a book about the highwayman James Allen, which is bound in his own skin (officially titled "Narrative of the life of James Allen : alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison”). This is weird and horrifying and I want to see it.

Things Outside

Mount Auburn Cemetery - I’ve been twice already, but it’s a huge, lovely garden cemetery. I want to see it in all seasons. 

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - the now-defunct Louisville theater group Le Petomane taught me about the Great Molasses Flood, but I didn’t realize it took place in Boston until the guide book told me about the plaque. If you’ve never heard of the Great Molasses Flood, check out this recent Boston Globe story 

The Bunker Hill Monument - We’ve walked around the grounds at night, but I’d love to see the view from the top. You can climb the monument’s 294 steps for free. 

Fairsted (Frederick Law Olmsted’s home & office) - Because he is responsible for Cherokee Park in Louisville, I love Olmsted, without knowing much about the man or his life. Now I can visit his home and learn more. 

Back Bay Fens - Another Olmsted project. It’s looking a little rough at the moment, so I’ll wait until spring for this one, as well. 

And finally, I would like to visit the Massachusetts State House, but I didn’t have a category for it. There is a wooden cod suspended from the ceiling in the House of Representatives, symbolizing the importance of the fishing industry. It is called the Sacred Cod. I must see this sacred fish. 

Have I overlooked one of your favorite Boston-area destinations? Tell me about it! 

Favorite Photos of 2014

Since 2010, I’ve done a photo-a-day project about every other year (2010-112012, and now 2014). I have yet to achieve 365 photos — this year, I missed six days.

At the end of every photo-a-day year, I think I will probably not do another. At times, it just feels like a chore. I forget until the end of the day and then end up taking a picture of an empty pitcher of mojito on my phone. Then again, some days the project forces me outside. It forces me to look for something I want to remember or share. It also gives me a visually detailed archive of the year. At the end of my years off the project, I usually miss doing it — and decide to try again.

Anyway, here are some of my favorites from 2014.

 On a lunchtime walk during a day trip to Nashville. 

On a lunchtime walk during a day trip to Nashville. 

 Cherokee Park, Louisville

Cherokee Park, Louisville

Those two are probably my favorite photos I took all year. 

 Public Garden, Boston

Public Garden, Boston

 Race Point, Cape Cod

Race Point, Cape Cod

 City Museum, St. Louis

City Museum, St. Louis

I still don't know what those leaves are. What are they? Besides the most beautiful leaves ever? 

 Notre Dame cathedral, Strasbourg, France

Notre Dame cathedral, Strasbourg, France

Have you done a photo-a-day project? Do you have any favorite images from 2014? ( I particularly loved this one, and the ninth photo in this collection is powerful -- it came up in class and I saved it in my notes). If you're doing a project this year, let me know -- I'd love to follow it. 

Books I Read in 2014

Happy 2015! 

Because I hoped to finish one more book in 2014 to bring the list to 20, I waited to post last year’s reads. Compared to 2013, I did poorly — I read exactly half as many books as last year. I blame this on the Robert Caro book (which took about three months) and the readings for the classes I audited in the fall. Anyway, here’s the list (** for recommendations; EPR for Eat, Pee, Reads): 

1. The Wet & the Dry - Lawrence Osborne

2. Anne of Green Gables - Lucy Maud Montgomery** (reread this for book club and regretted giving away the beautifully illustrated copy of the book I had as a child). 

3. How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran

4. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Vergese

5. The Female Eunuch - Germaine Greer

6. Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman

7. Russian Debutante's Handbook - Gary Shteyngart

8. Our Shawnee - Louisville Story Program**

9. The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) - Robert A. Caro** (This book made me wish I had a Caro book on every president). 

10. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (EPR. This was recommended to me last year, and after seeing the movie trailer, I decided I needed to know what happened before the film release. I read it in about 48 hours and lay on the floor so long reading that I gave myself a headache. I forgot the “eat” part of EPR that night, which likely contributed to the headache. I haven't seen the movie.)

11. Difficult Conversations - Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Neen

12. Ich bin dann mal weg (I’m Off Then) - Hape Kerkeling

13. The Complete Stories - Flannery O'Connor

14. AIDS and Accusation - Paul Farmer

15. The Man on the Third Floor - Ann Bernays

16. Une mélancolie arabe - Abdellah Taïa

17. It's Complicated - danah boyd** (recommended especially if you’re interested in social media and teenagers). 

18. Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution - Laurie Penny** (Penny is a 2015 Nieman Fellow. I wish through some kind of time warp that she’d written this book 15 years ago so I could have had it in high school. Or maybe in middle school.)

19. Children of the Monsoon - David Jiménez** (Jiménez is also a Nieman this year). The short stories in the book focus on children Jiménez met in his travels as the Asia bureau chief for the Spanish paper El Mundo. I learned so much from this book and almost gave my copy to my parents but then decided to keep this one and buy them their own.

What were your favorite books last year? What’s on your To Read list for 2015? I will definitely tackle the next volume in the LBJ series, but I could use some good fiction recommendations. Do you have any? 

New England Adventures

Friday marks two months of Northeast living, and I’m long overdue for an update. 

During our first few weeks here, we had visitors, which meant lots of exploration (plus, everything was new, so it at all felt like exploring). Some highlights: 

The Boston Common and Public Garden

We visited the park on our first Saturday in Boston, mainly so I could see the Make Way for Ducklings statue. I could only get these three at the end, because the rest of the ducks were covered in children. I get it — I loved this book growing up and have started buying it as a gift for all the new babies in my life. 

We went back the next Saturday to read in the grass. We ended up people-watching: four weddings, one quinceñera, and one squirrel biting a tourist who spent 10 minutes trying to feed it. 

The Ether Dome

In October 1846, William T.G. Morton performed the first public surgery with ether in what is now called the Ether Dome in Massachusetts General Hospital. The hospital holds meetings in the space, but if it's open, you can take the elevator to the fourth floor (right for Ether Dome, left for Diabetes) and look around. There’s a small museum behind the amphitheater, and there’s a mummy inside the amphitheater. 

 His name is Padihershef.

His name is Padihershef.

If you wanted to take a themed walk, you could then go to the Public Garden, where they’ve built a monument to ether as well.

Walden Pond

Our trip to Walden Pond marked my most physical day in years. We biked roundtrip (40 miles, on the Minuteman Trail, through Lexington and Concord, past a pumpkin patch, the Louisa May Alcott Orchard house, and a biker taking selfies in front of huge sunflowers), and then I swam across the pond and back. Also — that’s a lake, not a pond.

It was cloudy the day we went, so I have only gloomy photos that don’t show the clear Walden waters. For a better idea, check out this collection from the Boston Globe

Provincetown

We took a fast ferry from Boston to Provincetown, and I learned that rough waters make me seasick. After some coffee and lunch, I felt better.

 Leaving Boston on a clear day, headed for nausea.

Leaving Boston on a clear day, headed for nausea.

We rented bikes and biked to Race Point Beach in perfect weather. Because the first ferry captain announced that they expected worse waters on the way back to Boston, we bought Dramamine for the ride home. I think the ocean was calmer, but I slept the whole return trip. Then we ate hot chicken

 Race Point Beach, Provincetown

Race Point Beach, Provincetown

In between these adventures, we spend our time in class, reading and writing at home, attending presentations hosted by the Nieman Foundation (and the Fellows), and trying noodle restaurants. I won’t lie. This is an amazing experience. I should be reminding myself that I am incredibly lucky every day; I’m averaging a few times a week. But I’ve developed a routine and find myself straying less frequently from the path connecting our apartment to campus. We have more visitors coming a few weeks — that should help us see something new. 

Two Hot Chickens and a Hot Curry

New York Hot Chicken

At the end of May, we took a trip to New York. A few months before, a friend sent me this recipe for the hot chicken at Peaches Hothouse, a place in Brooklyn. We added the restaurant to our New York To Do list and headed there on a Friday night. 

We ordered the hottest level of chicken. It looked more like regular fried chicken than the usual hot-chicken shade of dark red. I judge hot food by the number of beers I drink during the meal. Hattie B’s painfully hot chicken usually requires two beers. By the end of our meal at Peaches, I was still drinking the same beer. The chicken was tasty, and there was a heat that built up gradually. But instead of a table-banging, nose-sweat-inducing heat, this heat was manageable. I wouldn’t call it Nashville-style, though. Maybe spicy chicken. I would eat it again. 

New York Hot Curry 

The next day, another friend mentioned an Indian place that offers a hot curry challenge and a certificate if you finish your food. She really likes certificates, and I really like challenging myself with hot food, so we decided we should eat hot curry for dinner. 

Four people from our five-person party took on the "Phaal Challenge" at Brick Lane Curry House. We had to sign waivers saying we realized we were silly and would not hold the establishment responsible for any physical or psychological pain (I’m paraphrasing). When the food arrived, our waiter let us know we had 30 minutes to finish. 

 Photo by Lauren Reid

Photo by Lauren Reid

I do not recommend trying this hot curry at all. Not only is it painfully hot, it’s bad. Curry is typically delicious. This “curry” can only be called that because it seems to be a blend of every hot pepper around. It was hot peppers and nothing else. I finished it with the help of two big beers. I got the certificate, but that was a wildly unpleasant experience. 

(If this was a piece for Upworthy, the headline would be: I completed the Phaal Challenge. You’ll never guess what happened next). 

If you decide to destroy your innards with this curry, my hot tip (pun intended) is to eat as little rice as possible. It only takes up stomach realty needed for more bad curry. 

Boston Hot Chicken

One of the 31 things I said I would miss about Louisville was its proximity to Nashville and hot chicken. While writing that post, I found a place that does hot chicken near MIT. Last night, we decided to see if their “Nashville-style” hot chicken was really Nashville, or New York.

Two things: 

1. We visited State Park’s sister restaurant, Hungry Mother, this weekend to pick up some pimento cheese for an event. We told the gentleman who assisted us that we wanted to try State Park’s hot chicken.

“I will never eat that chicken,” he said. 

2. When we ordered, our waiter asked me, “Have you ever had the chicken prepared that way?” 

“Yes, in Nashville.” 

“Great. That’s the best answer I’ve ever had to that question.” (I didn’t ask him how long he’d worked there). 

The chicken came on a slice of white bread with a few pickles on the side. It was dark red. It was hot — but not esophagus-burning, ear-popping hot. Hotter than Peaches, not as hot as Hattie B’s. It reminded me of the first hot chicken we ever had, from Bolton’s. I only needed one beer, but I think the one-beer level is the level for me. State Park, your hot chicken is perfect. We will be back.