Archive for the ‘Cambridge’ Category

Horrors of Local Theater

September 18th, 2011

A universe of two does not lend itself to science and analysis, unless perhaps it’s two galaxies. Instead consider the pair of local plays fraught with physical anguish and disappointment.

Our neighborhood group, the Riverside Theatre Works, has staged Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The Central Square has a lively, comedic version of The House of the Baskervilles. One was delayed and one postponed in process for emergencies. Is this a trend?

We have tickets to Cat, but were not there on opening night. A neighbor involved in the RTW told me yesterday that she was there as usual and for the first time ever, the production halted while an audience member was hauled away. She had some sort of episode that required an ambulance. The show stopped for about 40 minutes. One wonders how much sultriness made the transition.

Today, we were at Hound when we returned from intermission, I with a cup of coffee. The first hour was a surprise delight. It was vaudevillian in its physical comedy and great fun with the too-familiar Conan Doyle lines. Three actors play 16 characters, generally with the one off-stage suddenly reemerging with a wig and dress or cloak to add another part. There was a lot of running around, climbing on sets and what we’d call zaniness in earlier TV sit-coms.

Right before the break, one actor flipped the stage lights on and came out yelling that there really was something back there that bit him, and calling the other actors by their real names. Such switching clearly set us up for the second hour.

Yet, 15 minutes later we returned to blinking lights and the stage manager telling us that one of the actors hurt his ankle so badly that he could not continue. They’d take him to the emergency room. We’d get an email offering us a choice of another performance or a refund. Really.

She had to convince us. Given the parody on stage, this seemed like just another gimmick, like the ones that had worked so well for the first hour.

So there you have it. Two plays in September interrupted by physical crisis. What’s the odds? Do you suppose we’ll ever see the second half of Hound?

Safety? That’s the ticket!

August 8th, 2011

BPjollyParalyzed police are so oppressed by thoughtless lawmakers. Otherwise, for sure dudes and dudettes, they’d do the right thing.

Over at the Globe today, Peter DeMarco does his usual clear writing on bike issues. The gist is that cops in Boston and other cities around aren’t writing tickets for cycling infractions, particularly running red lights. It seems there are flaws in the laws.

Rather, there are numerous laws that make it clear that under MA law, a bicycle is a vehicle with similar rights and responsibilities for the operator as motor vehicles. (A later post or two will rip into the inane same-road-same-rules chant.) Yet the three-paragraph law (Ch. 85-Sect. 11E) that passed this January gives the cops a weak excuse not to write tickets for bikers.

The ruse is that as there is no driver’s license to suspend or revoke, the constabulary is powerless, powerless I say son, to do anything other than write warning tickets to cyclists. While listening to locals and reading comments on newspaper and websites, you’d believe all drivers are law abiding and all cyclists hellions.The BDP and other cops around feign impotence.

Unfortunately, DeMarco stops with taking them at their word and does not point out the obvious. Nor does the Globe or police or anyone seem interested in a bit of science. Counting and classifying infractions by drivers, bikers and walkers would likely make them all squirm and shuffle their feet.

We really do need to disregard these give perceptions that drive (if you pardon) the related discussions. I’ve done a few short term counts. I think I’ll do some more and publish them. This is a discussion awaiting and some official counter sorts should get involved.

First let’s note some Boston road traits:

  • Unlike many cities with long, straight runs of well-timed lights, ours are generally low speed.
  • This keeps most collisions to non-lethal levels. While it’s rare to find a local car without dings, we don’t get going fast enough to murder in most cases.
  • The sheer number of cars here so vastly exceeds bikes that the numbers of wrecks, hit-and-runs and more commonly moving violations is several orders of magnitude higher for motor vehicles.
  • There are virtually no fatalities caused by a bicycle hitting anyone or anything, and numerous ones of car, bus and truck drivers hitting cyclists.

Yet the need of urbanites to identify with fellow drivers and to believe that cyclists are far more likely to disregard traffic laws is terrifically strong. Hence, there is a cry for our cops to crack down on these scofflaws.

periodmoto

Back to my quasi-scientific findings, which I promise to replicate and expand a bit, I went to a few intersections, some with little bike traffic and others with a mix of motor and non-motor. What I found included with the preponderance of cars, trucks and buses, it was extremely rare (under 1%) of traffic lights and stop lights that did not have multiple driver offenses at every light change and every sign stop. These were running the light or sign, not coming to a complete stop, blocking the crosswalk or box, not stopping before the stop line, turning on red where not allowed, speeding, turning or changing lanes without a signal, turning without yielding to pedestrians, and turning from the wrong, marked lane. In general, the law-abiding drivers were the one who were not close enough to commit the moving violations. At nearly all lights, from one to five drivers ran red lights, often tailgating each other through after the change.

Cyclists tended to be guilty most frequently of slowing or stopping for the red light, then proceeding, running the light in vehicular terms. Yet, more and more cyclists are stopping and waiting, including this one. The message seems to be getting through to us. It appears a slight majority do proceed after stopping and before the light changes though.

Of course, cyclists are wont to point out that the risk to anyone from a cyclist stopping and going is tiny contrasted to a motor vehicle driver doing that. It’s still illegal tough. Moreover, it is well to a cyclist’s safety to get ahead of drivers at a light change. Drivers are much more sensible and safe overtaking cyclists where they can see and feel in charge than leaving a light at the same moment. Yet, even starting a second or two before the change to green is still illegal.

The fact seems to be that most drivers who do not also cycle seem to resent cyclists or anyone who might get to do something they cannot. Despite the vast physical differences, drivers seem from their comments to have a puerile reaction — If I can’t, they can’t! It’s not fair!

Then to the cops, let’s be plain about return on their time and effort investment. They roundly hate the $1 MA jaywalking law and the $20 bike tickets. Fair enough for pedestrians, but they know that the bike tickets can be $20 to $50, enough to make it worth the time.

In fairness, we need to be aware that tickets are time consuming, particularly if the receiver fights it and the cop is supposed to appear in court to testify. Understandably, they’d rather not mess with bike and ped tickets. They could enforce these laws, as they have in places like D.C. and occasionally, periodically, in Cambridge.

However, cops may have seen too many police dramas. Talk to a cop and they would have it they are overwhelmed with major stuff. Yet the danger of some loony or criminal shooting at or trying to stab or club a cop are very low in a given year or decade. Some officers go careers without any of that. More importantly, the vast majority of cops are not detectives bringing to the bar murderers, burglars and such. Most cops do pretty mundane looking and other work all day every day.

They largely have time to do for pay what I have done out of curiosity — go to intersections and observe moving violations. The difference, of course, is that they should then write tickets.

Virtually any intersection any day would provide one violation after another. They would quickly:

  • Fill up ticket book
  • Shock the drivers used to the no-blood-no-ticket attitude
  • Spread the word that urban cops were enforcing laws for a change
  • Make our streets safer

The pretense that tweaking the new 85-11E would make a difference is absurd. Facts include that cyclists have advantages here. While they are much more likely to be maimed or killed when hit, they don’t have licenses to lose or surchargeable insurance. They don’t have to produce their papers (license) and could give false names and addresses.

In comments on sites, a common call is for cyclists to have operator insurance and some form of license. These too are those shallow, emotional responses to someone having something those commenting do not. Plus, I try to imaging the cry over the expense and new bureaucracy in implementing such changes.

Instead, cops should enforce existing laws for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Police departments can make that happen by mandating enforcement and creating policies for their officers in presently iffy situations.

Sure, cops would whine that they’ll spend a lot more time writing tickets and appearing court. I can almost guarantee that this would be only for a few months. When the word got out that the BPD suddenly means to enforce traffic laws, violations will plunge as driver/cyclist/walker behavior changes.

I propose that we measure violations, both by study and by tickets issued. That would certainly take the bluster out of driver’s claims that they are the only ones who obey the laws. We could get a much safer city.

Cross-post: This is both legal and personal. I’ll post in Harrumph and Marry in Massachusetts.

Up in the Actors’ Faces

April 22nd, 2011

Is it odd that someone as inherently shy as I likes theater where you could touch the actors if you stretched just a bit? Well, I am and I do.

Last evening, we had that experience again, this time in Cambridge. It was our first time at the Central Square Theater. It was much like my countless off-off-Broadway evenings in my decade living in Manhattan. It was also very similar to the old New Rep, when it was the Newton Repertory Theater (hence New Rep) in the Congregational Church in the Highlands there.

I think we found our new New Rep yesterday.

Not only did we like the space and play, but we had the affirming omen of sharing the restaurant with a famous professor holding forth. Theater before theater with splendid food has all the marks — at least the public ones — of a good evening.

Cheek to Jowl

I started enjoying off-off-Broadway productions when I was in high school in New Jersey and would bus into town. Coffee houses, folk music and poets were the entertainment norms, but cheap theater was another part. I got in at the very end of the beatnik phase and the start of the Dylan/Baez/Ochs types. Folk, poetry, jazz or plays were all a few bucks and generally no waiting, reservations or the other rituals of today.

When I moved to the city in the decade there were a few Broadway theaters with bargain seats. I recall the Winter Garden had Sondheim and such where obstructed view seats were under $10. You’d be in a box very close to the stage, but a column would cut off a corner of your sight of the whole stage.

Particularly for musicals, that was of little significance. A friend who loved Follies and such had me accompany her repeatedly to such shows.

My heart though was in the rawer dramas off-off-Broadway. They were invariably in smaller theaters, mostly below Times Square. As with the Central Square Theater, the audience was from two thirds to entirely around the stage. It is like being in the play, without the extroversion. The plays were innovative, unknown to most of the audience and as such riveting and demanding.

If I want to see and hear the same tired tale or song again and again, I could turn on television.

Likewise, we immediately decided to subscribe to the New Rep when we went to our first play there — Moby Dick, An American Opera — in 2001. Not only were we right on the sprawling stage that was the Pequod and much more, but it was not some hackneyed crowd pleaser.

I could certainly go the rest of my life without another production of the 100 or so plays Boston professional, touring, college and community theaters stage. We understand that they put on what they know people will pay to see. Yawn.

Instead, I love being next to the stage and action. I love new plays that require full attention and forming my own judgments.

Fear of Sameness

So last evening, I got it all. While we didn’t go entirely blind and had read a review of Breaking the Code, we did not know the work or playwright. Our reward was a very well written and largely superbly acted blending of biography, history, melodrama, mathematics and fledgling computer science. It was very memorable and far more so than had we seen yet another hoary modern classic play. Yawn again.

Early in life, I could not believe people’s need for the known and fear of the unknown. The mere idea of an eternal heaven of one unchanging, blissful day sounds rather like hell to me. Likewise, I an aghast when I hear folk say they love or look forward to loving to do the same thing every day in their retirement, be that golf or fishing or whatever — hell acted out on earth.

When I lived in Manhattan, a high-school chum decided to become a chef, enrolled in the CIA up in Hyde Park on the Hudson, and took to spending weekends based in my West Village apartment. We were together often, walking the length of the island, eating, drinking, going to theater and such. She became a successful chef.

She told me a story of sameness more than once as she graduated head of her class and worked NYC restaurants. She’d cock her head to the left as she was wont when amused to tell me that I was a better cook but could never be a chef.

She noted that I could go to the pantry or the corner green grocer and create a remarkable meal from what I found. She said that made me better with food and thus a better cook. However, as she learned in school and professionally, the vast majority of restaurant customers want, expect and demand the same…every time.

I did and still do cook by what is best and freshest, combining them generally differently each time. I rarely use recipes. In contrast, she said, customers pay for a predictable experience, one that is a package with generally the same companion(s). Their veggies, entrées, soups, desserts and all damned well look, feel and taste exactly as they remember them.

Likewise, with theater, the crowds like the predictable. They want stories they know, dialog they’ve heard, and a play that their neighbors and coworkers will also recognize.

Felicitousness Omens

Only a block from the theater is an apt restaurant for it, Rendezvous. We had been there before and returned, but not because we expected an identical experience. While some of the dishes are pretty steady, many vary by Chef Steve Johnson’s whims, by which of his herbs are in his garden, and by what pates and sausages he and the staff have concocted that week and day.

Shortly after we ordered, someone else who likes Rendezvous arrived to join a table of maybe two dozen. Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates came in, greeting his friends and the wait staff alike. Cheeks were kissed.

I did not get boorish and buttonhole him. After watching his Faces of America PBS series, I suspect he’d appreciate the light link we have. My mother came from the same immediate region as he. They were born in the same hospital in the tiny town of Keyser, West Virginia. He, she and her father all graduated from Pot State (Potomac State in Keyser, now part of the state University system).

As his series shows, it’s possible there is some family connections as well. Who knows, but just talking the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia is not an experience he likely gets often. Nor do I.

Regardless, I behaved myself. On the way out, I did ask the maitre d’ and sure enough, he’s a regular. Perhaps we’ll coincide on a future visit to the theater and we can play two former hillbillies.

Meanwhile, the dinner was wonderful and my wife and I had a fine time there and at the play. We’ll be back to both.

We do vary our restaurants. The several companies that stage in that little complex don’t have so many productions that we’d be on entertainment autopilot.

Following its move from Newton to Watertown, the migrated New Rep stuck us as fairly boring. They run a lot more conventional productions. We dropped our subscription. They have aged badly and are much more timid.

Now in Central Square, there’s what we like.

Tags: harrumphharrumphertheaterCentral Squareoff-off-Broadwaycookingvariety

Reusing Power, Old and New

April 10th, 2011

The suddenly gray Potomac, with its distinct line at Luke Mills, was visible long after the smell alerted you. The billowing, rotund plumes from the smoke stack were not the benign steam we see (and don’t smell) in major cities. Instead, West Virginia Pulp and Paper use the standard sulfur dioxide to bleach its products (and did smell).

luke

That plant in the old family employer is now called MWV and it doesn’t stink anymore. Yet those of us who knew we were close to visiting great uncles and great aunts and the countless cousins on the near Maryland side of the mountains recognize the stack at least (shown here from a Google street image).

Despite the many visits to the numerous Cave relatives on my maternal grandmother’s side, I hadn’t thought of the Luke plant for years until today. At BarCamp Boston, one of the sessions I attended was on solar-powered supercomputers. (Feel free to re-read that and let it sink in. That literally was the content.)

An aim of the array supercomputer competitions is to produce the most FLOPS with the least energy expenditure. FLOPS are floating-point operations per second, or raw processing output, in plain terms.

A side effect of energy use is that damned heat. That’s exacerbated nowadays by the industry using more processors instead of having the benefit of each processor being dramatically more powerful. Thus, more power often comes with a lot more heat generated.

Outside the rarefied joys of array supercomputing, this effect is constant in many of the services we use in our companies and even our internet recreation. Data centers and server complexes are hot boxes. You may extrapolate from that laptop that sears your thighs.

The guys in the solar-powered supercomputer lecture chatted up the cleverness of some data center designers and managers. They were pretty sure the center that was designed to reroute its heat into its building was in Iceland. Actually, they were munging the concepts. With the advantage of checking after the conference, I see that Icelandic buildings continue to use the local geothermal for heating and one new one can use free air for cooling its humongous computer operations.

Incongruously enough, that cooling innovation is in (ta da) London. A new data center built on the site of the original East India Company was designed to recycle the computer system’s considerable heat into usable energy for the 200,000 square foot facility.

To close the loop, I remember my grandmother’s relatives who worked their careers for West Virginia Pulp and Paper. While they never believed it, from far away it was obvious that the plant killed them. Three of the four of her brothers had brain or other vital organ cancers, as was common in Luke and neighboring Westernport. Instead, they gave us reams of typing or scratch paper that the company handed out, and they spoke gleefully and gratefully of the free heat.

The mountains of West Virginia and Maryland on the opposite banks of the Potomac can be, how did we say it as teens, cold as a witch’s tit? The paternalistic plant operators did at least run the steam from the operations under the town and to the houses. There was free heat, like the Icelandic geothermal version, always available.

So today’s workshop on supercomputers and the chatter about designing buildings to make it easy to capture and reuse the god-awful heat from computer operations was an atavism to me. In fact, I thought of the Elder Joseph Shaker song, Simple Gifts, with its closing lines:

To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Street Corner Perfect Pitch

March 5th, 2011

I had some advice for a mendicant this cold morning down by Haymarket. Yeah, I gave him some money, but it came with more valuable advice I learned many years ago from a great salesman.

To drag out the punchline, I thought back to when I first lived in Cambridge during college in the late 1960s. Street bums seemed as common as donut shops — student age, indeterminate wrinkled substance abusers and on and around. Seeing them when he visited, a very bright classmate headed to his PhD in history was up for a summer and figured he’d play. He stayed with us but refused our food. He was determined to apply his savvy to what surely was easy quasi-work.

He failed miserably.

He was clean, personable and pleasant, while still speaking up and engaging Bostonians eye-to-eye. He tried places like the Pru sidewalks, where he saw many successful buskers and beggars. He just didn’t click, got next to nothing, and ended up letting us feed him before he went back home. He eventually was a tenured professor but never a winning begger.

When he was here I watched a very successful guy downtown. The big difference between him and my friend is that one had a shtick. Even after I knew the act, I gave him money in appreciation of his performance. It was cheap entertainment, something my chum did not offer. Instead, this guy would approach someone of the sidewalk and open his right palm to show numerous coins. This, of course, defied conventional wisdom, as in pretend to be penniless and at the mercy of the passerby.

Instead, he’d get the interest of the other person by touching the coins and saying, “I’ve got $1.63. I need another $1.37 to get a sandwich right there,” and pointing to a convenience store. While I don’t believe anyone thought he would rush in for an egg salad sandwich. I certainly figured he was stocking up for some wine or such and had more than $1.63 already. But the theater…

So, this morning I had a flashback when the beggar at the Haymarket garage pulled out a plastic box of strawberries. He started strong with a routine. He was an honest man and couldn’t lie; he had just stolen the fruit. He was locked out of the shelter last night and had not eaten, but they didn’t serve decent food there anyway. He needed money for a small bag of chips (strawberries and potato chips?).

In remembrance of the much better mendicant from those years ago, I was reaching in my jeans for a bill. He didn’t stop though. He went on about how honest he was and how he was ashamed to have stolen. He quickly passed from a sympathetic character to a pathetic and dishonest one. I had to tell him  that he wasn’t believable. He doubled down about how every word was the truth, the proven (eh?) truth and on and on.

That’s when I thought of a great space salesman I had known when I was an editor out of New York for Construction Equipment magazine. He always beat the results of the other guys, which was remarkable in that his territory had fewer companies likely to advertise in our magazine and directory. Others had big factory states with Caterpillar and other huge equipment manufacturers. Larry was in Texas with petroleum companies, who advertised heavily only in consumer publications and pretty much only sold lubricants and fluids to our readers.

So I got to ask him one day. The whole staff including us writers were on a week-long junket/internal conference/bonding at the Dorals in Florida. One afternoon, Larry and I were at one of the bars and I had to find out how he skunked the other guys quarter after quarter. He laughed heartily, which was unusual for him. Despite being in BIG Texas, he was pretty soft-spoken and the shortest and slightest of the sales reps. He wasn’t much for loud laughs.

He then leaned in and looked me directly in the eyes. Larry said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

This morning, just before I handed the strawberry fellow some money, I passed that far more valuable gift to him.

Spitting My Past’s Past

March 3rd, 2011

DNAorbit

Surely within a few years (at least in generational terms), people will have easy, understandable access to their genetic information. Through a generous, question-asking/answering gift from #1 son, our family is suddenly immersed in an early version of it.

His Christmas present to his parents and two brothers was a saliva-based analysis of humans we are and our DNA. 23andMe reports what I suspected — I’m a fairly homogenized Northern and Western European type. I seem to have roots many thousands of years ago in what is now Arabia and even Northern Africa, but from way back, my folk populated the British Isles and Scandinavia, no big surprise for someone who grew up blond and pale.

At this nascent point in the science of DNA and related research, the what does all this mean remains sketchy to us relatively low-scientific resource types. The report site shows me as paternal haplogroup R1b1b2a1a1 and on the maternal side J1c3b. Huh?

The many screens of info suggest folk in the probably pretty small customer database who are like 3rd, 4th or so cousins genetically. Other screens and new notices regularly suggest proclivity toward various health conditions, traits and diseases. Again, with my genetics, there’s nothing startling, with slightly decreased or elevated tendencies to this or that. Of the long list, there is literally nothing alarming or even worthy of asking a doc about.

More curious making would be where my ancestor started, traveled and settled. Others are way ahead of me here. There are websites with voluminous related reports and people who have traced migration routes over tens of thousands of years, mostly based on analysis of bones all over Asia and Europe. Amusingly to me is that my paternal line stated a bit late but then mated with everyone in their way, leaving the haplogroup dominating Spain, the Basque region, France, Wales, Ireland, Britain, Denmark and Iceland.  That blew my idea that it was the Norsemen that started the bastardized lineage of what became Britain; instead, it may have been the R1b1b2 and so forth breeders who first became the Norsemen.

Clicking around on the haplogroups, I discovered that Wikipedia has numerous pages on various ones, including mine. These tend to be replete with links to academic studies, with all the data you can eat.

It also led to something I should have run across before, Doggerland. It was a real-world Atlantis in the sense that it was heavily inhabited 10,000 or so years ago and disappeared slowly at first from rising, post ice-age seas, then suddenly in a huge tsunami 8,000 years ago, give or take.

doggerThe accompanying image is part of one from a site with links to its tale. According to genetic traces still being dredged up, my ancestors heavily populated this land bridge between what became Europe and Britain. Many being washed away by 75-feet of tidal wave didn’t stop the stock.

Last year, I stumbled on a DNA-based series on PBS, the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. one Faces of America. As a non-TV watcher, I had read of it but of course missed it. I watched it online and as mildly sensationalized as it is (picking a few celebrities and tracing their genes way back), I was intrigued. Particularly moving too was when they presented Yo-Yo Ma with a copy of centuries of hand-recorded genealogy they discovered in China.

As it turns out, #1 son works for the Broad Institute in Cambridge that did key research for that series. I’m already hoping that folk there can tell him how to compare segments and get the most of the info on us.

As fascinating as I’ve found this stuff now that our family results arrived, I doubt it will consume me or us. Instead, I project to a future where such information becomes widely available and in much more manageable forms. Surely, we’re likely to start getting such testing as part of routine medical profiles. While docs may want to know what problems to watch for and eventually what to treat us preventively with genetic medicine in development or yet only imagined, we typical self-centered humans might rather know where our great-great-great-greats started, visited and stopped.

My father’s mother liked genealogy and had her husband’s side traced. There are some notable folk, but it’s really terribly British and on this continent from early colonial days (excepting the Spanish in Florida and so forth). In fact, that became very obvious to our sons when their Boston schools would have international nights, with pot lucks. The families were told to bring national dishes. That’s fine enough for the many with Latino, Russian, Vietnamese and other backgrounds. What’s a WASP to do and bring, pot roast or bread pudding? The kids wanted to do the right thing, but as a cook-everything guy, I ended up bring something I knew many would enjoy, like the un-English arroz con pollo.

My personal background seems not so much a melting pot as a lump of cheddar.

Friday Update: National Geographic had a Doggerland show, which doesn’t seem to rerun. However, it is available on YouTube.

Curse Before Blessing

December 30th, 2010

“It is a bad restaurant!,” proclaimed the gold eye-lidded lady. “There are mice in the back! They are mean people!”

Perhaps the five of us are too conventional. Her veritable mask of gold face paint with glitter, centered on and obscuring her eyes seemed to match her crazed pronouncements. She appeared to be as the Monty Python crew so often said “a loony.”

Just to me, she brought back flashes of the East Village back when I had a monkey, Sam, the cinnamon ringtail. One day on my East Third Street, as Sam rode on my shoulder as she was wont (she loved being the highest critter around), a Gypsy by her appearance walked directly in front of us. As Sam made threatened noises and rose on her back legs and placed her spindly hands on the crown of my head, the woman ran her right hand up my jaw, looked me deep in the eyes and said I was very powerful. She creeped out both my monkey and me. She had the same wild stare as the woman on Mass Ave last evening.

The restaurant in recent question was Rendezvous in Central Square. The many reviews in papers as well as online, alas, did not warn us of rodents nor nasties. We in our group rather suspected the sidewalk Cassandra had one or more run-ins with the staff there.

I had chosen the spot, where none of us had eaten, by its reviews and location. We were coming from the nearby MIT Museum and meeting two others for a birthday dinner for my wife. A long-term friend was visiting from the South, so we wanted a decent place in memory of the many good meals we had shared in Manhattan years before we moved North and she down there.

RICSeatingFor foodies, the seven agreed it was fine. As an indicator, here’s #2 son, my uxorial unit, and our friend the artist Savannah lost in their Thai scallop soup and duck dishes.

I started with their charcuterie plate, with small portions of pates and sausages made in house. The sundry flavors were at once subtle and rich — gentle but highly varied tastes and textures. I strongly recommend it.

#3 son went with the burger. It was remarkable for its appearance alone, starting with the bun. It gave the appearance of some grand forest mushroom cap. RICSbun He can be a hard sell and pronounced it neither mean nor murine, rather excellent.

We all enjoyed our choices.

For foodies again, it’s not the place of $5 plates more typical of Central Square. Rather entrees are in the $25 to $30 range. The bar and wine list are more South End than melting pot as well. There are a few bottles on the list under $30, but most cost $20 to $40 higher than that. You’d have to choose carefully and knowledgeably not to double your tab on a so-so wine here.

The warnings from the woman, colorful of face and language, aside, a good meal and good time was had by each of us.

‘Possum Rampant in Harvard Square

December 22nd, 2010

ersFor many years, I’ve loved hearing the reggae dude coming on WERS‘ promo saying, “When I’m in Boston, I listen to WERS — Rockers!” I do too and adore the show, the best reggae in New England (Saturday and Sunday 2-5 p.m.)

Then as the cliché runs, you must accept the bad with the good.

Lately, it’s been chuckles over the student DJs’ rendering of the likes of Club Passim. We alter kakers have known it for half a century, from when it was first the Club 47. It’s been in Cambridge all that time, moving a bit, but the folk-music venue for generations.

The word passim goes back many centuries and derives from Latin, passus. It means here and there, throughout, as citing an author’s work in footnotes. That seems apt enough for the motley sets in a typical folk-music evening.

In these parts, the original pass’-im pronunciation has long been pa-seem’. Neither suits many of the ERS mic massagers. It’s pertinent when they regularly read their concert calendar.

The DJs change by the semester. Emerson has a huge presence in communications, including a couple of BA programs in radio as well as its own station. That means a wide variety of skill sets, accents, vocabularies and regional dialects. A few things are sure though. For some reason, the DJs who host fun, kid-oriented songs on The Playground (Saturday and Sunday, 5-8 p.m.) are young women students with squeaky voices. Cute brings cute?

notpassim

Occasionally, student DJs have strong Midwestern and Plains accents that are stunning in this area. Listen to the news and think you are Wisconsin.

Back to Club Passim, the recent managers have produced Club Pass’-um repeatedly. That’s not a Tom Brady fan group. This afternoon, I got an even bigger jolt with Club ‘Possum. I visualized Pogo with a guitar.

As snooty as New Englanders and Boston-area sorts in particular are about pronouncing their local stuff, I’m surprised the station managers and local students haven’t ragged on these DJs. I have to assume I listen to ERS more than they do.

Here I am, turning into eeka over at 1 Smoot Short of a Bridge. She has regular mini-rants about WBUR’s Delores Handy’s mouth tics, like this recent one. For me, while I can’t take the little girl voices on The Playground, I find the small manglings on ERS tolerable.

Brookline: Just Go Away!

November 30th, 2010

goawayProbably all of us as adolescents had our cranky periods. Brookline never outgrew its.

Unless you live there, they are too good for you anyway. They don’t even want you parking there. They don’t need your damned tourist dollars. If you are from a neighboring town, why don’t you just stay there?

Speak to someone from Brookline and you are likely to hear how friendly they are. After all in schools, income, personal achievement and every other way, they are superior and have a lot of reason to be happy.

Brookline as a town makes its attitude plain on every street and road coming it. I think of it particularly as I bicycle around Eastern Massachusetts. (Fortunately for lesser mortals such as me, Brookline does not put up toll roads at its borders…yet.)

Other burgs in the area, such as Boston, Newton, Somerville and Cambridge, are different. Signs on streets entering those have this curious term that seems unknown in Brookline — WELCOME. Driving, cycling or walking into those ordinary places read WELCOME TO…

The Brookline version appears here. You are not welcome. You will not park anywhere in town for more than two hours, and there will be places that permit less time or none at all for non-residents. You will not park on the street anywhere overnight.

Go home. You don’t belong there.

It doesn’t work the other way, of course. Many from Brookline work in the financial district, medical facilities, corporations and universities of Boston and Cambridge.

thumbYou get a sense of the long standing of the Brookline attitude from its geography and governance. Brookline is a self-selected island of Norfolk County. As you can see from the map, it appears to be a thumb protruding into Boston’s bottom.

The rest of Norfolk County is to the South. Brookline refused to join Boston on several occasions, the last in 1873 when the town of West Roxbury agreed to annexation. Now Brookline is an exclave (not coincidentally sharing the first four letters with exclusive).

Back to bicycling, for all its snootiness, Brookline as a town is OK by riders. They don’t have nearly enough bike racks (goes with the car-parking attitude surely), but the cops there expect drivers to play nice with riders.

It has one nice, large park, plus the Olmsted site. We attend an old UU church there. The Brookline Village and Coolidge Corner areas have numerous OK, some good, but no great restaurants. (Note: Be very careful in the Village in the evening. Predatory towing services constantly monitor all off-street parking lots of closed businesses. They will get your car within 10 minutes.) It also has a concentration of kosher restaurants and bakeries.

Brookline never joined Boston, never formed its own county and apparently never got lonely for the rest of it body and buddies. It is content to float solo.

If you want to visit, bring quarters for the meters and for God’s sake, get out within two hours!

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Cambridge Pols in Puerile Fit

November 23rd, 2010

Yeah, we know a lot of Harvard and MIT types are too, too special for mingling with ordinary humans, on higher planes as they are. A splendidly comical report today from the Cambridge Chronicle shows that pretension disease has infected the city government.

It quotes several councilors as saying their city has stuff that others, like common Bostonians, would willingly steal. The illogic is worthy of BBC skits.

According to the paper, at last evening’s council meeting, several officials warned another, Leland Cheung, not to work too closely with Boston officials, including Mayor Tom Menino. Over objections from Councilors Ken Reeves and Tim Toomey, the body voted to let Cheung arrange a joint economic-development meeting with their equivalents in Boston.

Consider the silly positions of:

Reeves: You need a mayor in Boston who is a regional mayor, who cares about Cambridge and Newton and all the way out to Worcester. That’s not what the current stance in Boston is at all. It’s as narrow and myopic as you can get. I love Mayor Menino; if I was the mayor over there I might have turned into that, too. He is not a big-tent persona who is looking to hold hands.

Toomey: Mayor Menino is a very dear friend and colleague of mine, but I don’t see an economic benefit to the city of Cambridge by us sharing with the city of Boston what we’re doing. Mayor Menino has made it very clear that he’s enticing existing Cambridge companies to go to Boston now as it is. I’m not sure why we’re going to share what we’re doing with the city of Boston.

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis: Cheung needs to be careful not to share trade secrets.

They seem totally unaware of several key ideas. First is that Cambridge is not a private corporation with a proprietary product — secret ingredients and recipe steps that only a few know. In fact, the nature of public government is just that, with open meetings and the right for the public to know who does what and how. They are far more like other cities around than they are different.

The pretext that the city is somehow magical and singular seems widespread, even among those willing to speak with those others consider arch-rivals on the other side of the Charles. As Cheung said at the meeting, “I’m not even sure how you would share the secret sauce of what Cambridge has. It’s just so unique to Cambridge. I don’t think it’s copy-able.”

Yawn.

Another thing the hush-hush triplets seem confused about is that there already is sensible cooperation. Consider an area where Cambridge has long held a lead, bicycling. In laws, facilities, public perception and on and on, Cambridge put Boston to shame for many years. Then when Menino got cycling religion and brought in a real professional bike czarina to match theirs, the two and their related biking communities work together.

You can hear Cambridge’s Cara Seiderman here and Boston’s Nicole Freedman here in Left Ahead! podcasts. They spoke of Cambridge’s lead in their own podcast and Freeman spoke gratefully of how Seiderman and others in her city helped her see and apply lessons they already learned. The idea was for better cycling regionally, safer and more pleasant for all, including drivers and pedestrians…working together on common goals as it were and as it is.

Amusingly, the tone of the meeting was one of schoolyard competitiveness. Bad old Boston surely must want what they have. If you give it to them something terrible must surely befall.

One would think the generally well-read Cantabrigians would be a tad more (a lot more) cosmopolitan. It’s great that Cheung has some wit about him and that he was able to rise above the provincialism. In the end, I suspect it will take only one or two benefits accruing to them to get them to claim this was really their idea all along.