Archive for the ‘Boston’ Category

Everyone’s cousin leaves Haymarket

January 15th, 2016

pcampoSurely it’s good when changing of the guard does not involve an ambulance or hearse.  Yet the absence of my favorite Haymarket vendor has disturbed me. Today I got truth and knowledge.

I’d had an eye operation and was under surgeon’s orders to “putter around the house” and not do anything athletic, nor lift anything, nor expose my head to extreme weather.

When I returned after several weeks to my weekend ritual of 36 years, Pat (left in colder days) was not there. He and his father, Frank, had that stall back when my now huge number-one son was an infant in a Snugli on my chest. Now though instead of Pat, Ottavio Gallotto, President of the Haymarket Pushcart Association, had his crew there.

I didn’t ask about Pat, hoping he was hale and away to pick up a tan or the like. I was trepid. His father had died in 2007. Frank was a great role model for Pat, born Pasquale. Frank was one of those kind and gentle souls, who wasn’t ruffled by even the nastiest bargain hunter. Someone would be yelling, feigning indignation, but Frank let him vent and then explained how things were. Nice guy.

I noticed too that Pat’s mom, Jean, whom I’ve never met, died this past fall. So, somewhere I feared he might have fallen ill or worse as well. I know he was younger than I, but hey, 20-year-olds have heart attacks and strokes.

With mixed feelings, I finally asked Ottavio today. He paused and said, “He retired.” (pause) “He is only 60.” (pause) “Crazy, huh?”

Maybe not so crazy. His father worked much longer in their stall. Maybe Frank never tired of it and Pat wanted to spend weekends doing something other than setting up a stall before dawn, artfully arranging lemons and grapefruits, and in 100F or 0F standing there dealing with the likes of me until late afternoon every damned Friday and Saturday. Good on him. Bad for us.

Various Haymarket vendors develop their shticks. There was the relatively famous guy at the butcher shop catercorner from the Campo camp. He frightened some sensitive folk with his sudden “Want some meat, buddy?” query, invariably delivered less than a foot from your face. As I recall there was even a t-shirt with the saying and his raw-steak-like red/blue face.

Jimmy was another who has moved on. He hated the cold. That’s not a good fit for an area close to the waterfront. He was cheerful in spring and summer, but come the dreadful winter winds with sleet, snow and ice, he’d let everyone know how unhappy he was.

And Pat’s calling card was his calling. He’d greet everyone as “Hey, cuz,” or “What do you need, cousin.” Everyone was family to him. He got that attitude from Frank.

So, Haymarket now is without Pat. Clearly, I”ll have to deal.

I got used to the candy/nut man moving on. My sons considered it a right and rite to get a treat from him as a reward for shopping with me. I got used to the massive herb cart going away too.

Pat was the place for certain items. If you wanted the prettiest and most flavorful lemons, you’d head there. He kept his prices the lowest in the market for what he carried too. It was a pleasure doing business with them, father and son.

 

Stony Brook, You’re It!

January 3rd, 2016

I’ve run various shots here and on Flickr (like this one) of Stony Brook Reservation in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. More than the cat-tails and red-tail hawks, the humanoid contemporary wall art — a.k.a. tagging — typifies this end of the massive park.thompson

It’s worth an urban archeology expedition to see the graffiti in what was the Thompson Center. Opened in 1977 as a recreational facility for the physically disabled, it was largely neglected and finally closed in 2002. There’s talk now of turning into a dog-exercise joint. Certainly canine folk are eager for pooping and panting places. They are likely to goose the dozing mayor and city council to get their dog park.

ThompsonisisMeanwhile, the taggers are relentless. Each time I visit, there is new graffiti. The sprayers must have been singularly active Channukah to Christmas to New Years, there were perhaps a dozen paint cans and lids discarded in the main area. The accompanying pic does not show the dominant purple and lavender spray this time.

Strikingly though, the art is egocentric and devoid of political content. Today I was surprised to see the anti-ISIS sentiment. We can be reasonably sure those foreign terrorists are not aware of the statement and would not be concerned were they to become aware. However, I’ll watch for more commentary on my next trip.

Surgical Sounds for Good and Ill

January 2nd, 2016

Mistake the first in my recent eye surgery was finding/viewing videos of the operation. To this simple person, eyeballs should not get four holes, guide tubes and multiple instruments in them. The pulsing fundus spasms alone are disconcerting.

Don’t watch your operation before it occurs.

In my case, the anesthesiologist got me just high enough before the deed (only 20 minutes of actual surgery) that I would not feel and react to a big needle going under the eye into the optic nerve and muscles to keep the eye motionless. So, I heard everything he and the two surgeons said.

If you have the choice, opt for a general. Sure, you’ll be groggier longer, but you won’t hear what you don’t need to.surgery1

 

 

 

 

Thus, my heaven-hell spectrum.

By decreasing hellishness, what you don’t want to hear is “Oh shit!” or “Oops!” followed closely by “Oh my God!”

Sighs and grunts are bad but not terrible.

Minor surgeon glee as in “All right!” is pretty damned good. A self-congradulatory “Yeah!” is perfect.

In my case, I clearly heard repeated grunts followed by several sighs. In the recovery room, the surgeon explained. He had wanted to thoroughly remove any extraneous scar cells off the macula. Lackaday, one layer tightly adhered to the retina, which lifted with the layer as he used his itty-bitty forceps. He stopped before he risked tearing the retina wall, thus blinding me.

That’s hard to argue with, although I share his disappointment, surely to a greater degree. He’s positive he stopped any advancement of the condition, but can’t be sure short-term how much visusal improvement I’ll get. In fact, with macular pucker (a.k.a. wrinkled retina) surgery, the doc and patient don’t know for sure how the operation worked until three to six months later.

My surgeon, Dr. Peter Lou, is classified as a super-doctor. He’s been operating on eyeballs for 32 years he says. He knows his stuff and is a nice guy as well, always learning and far more atune to what the patient says than a stereotypical surgeon. In fact, he says he doesn’t think surgeons are all that big a deal.

Back on the operating table, there I was with a plastic half mask to quadruple ensure they’d work on the proper eye (the right was the right and I left Mass Eye and Ear with a black R marked above the eyebrow as a CYA tool). My eye was numb and blind for the surgery. The left one was covered by the mask and paper cloth.

Yet I heard it all. The chairs faintly creaked as the two surgeons watched their work in the microscope screen. The BP/respirator machines beeped and breathed in turn. The surgeon’s movements made subtle rustles. The tiny drill inside the eye whirred almost silently. Then there were numerous grunts, followed by sighs of exasperation.

Still…far better than “Oops!” or worse.

 

 

Alter kakers, moms to the polls

November 8th, 2015

Last week’s Boston election was a flapping wrinkle at least, while not a revolution. No ballot questions or major offices (mayor, governor, legislature, Congress or POTUS) lured the curious or civic-minded. However, we did revisit the 13 City Councilors.

Lackaday, only 13.63% of the city’s registered voters showed, according to the posted results. I could lament the lack of participation. Yet, it was right in the narrow range the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth predicted. I could also feel a barely justifiable pride that my precinct (18-16 in Hyde Park) more that doubled the city rate, at 28.08%. We had 1572 in our book and 442 cast ballots.

I’m the warden there, the minor official in this big pond with many inlets, as in 254 other precincts.

Instead, I noticed a few trends in my nearly 15 hours there. Election workers get to the polling place at least an hour before the 7 AM opening. We leave after breaking down, putting away, checking each ballot for write-ins, and accounting for each civically-sacred ballot.

It is no exaggeration that we are accountable for each ballot — received, cast, spoiled, or provisionally marked. We count them all day long, cross-reference the check-in and check-out books, and go a final great bookkeeping of them after polls close at 8 PM.

We’re on Fairmount Hill, a sub-neighborhood of Hyde Park rife with oldsters (including me) and breeders. Those are the sets that always vote and seemed to dominate again on Tuesday last.

Years ago, I was first inspector, then clerk (effectively middle management), then warden at the Woodbourne Apartments in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, 19-12. There are many disabled residents of that building, and many of those said that voting is a highlight each election day…solid participation, coupled with the rest of the precinct.

The seniors in 18-16 really believe in voting. Like I, they surely had both civics classes in school and expectations from parents that they had to participate in democracy.

In addition, we had a steady beat of babies and toddlers all day in 18-16. Actually that’s not precise. The moms (almost no dads voting with wee ones) were not queued up before 7 with their charges. Nor did they rush in before 8 and closing.

However, many 20-, 30- and 40-somethings came in with one to up to five kids on food, in carriers, in strollers (up to triplet). There were some grandmothers with several kids as well.

As my three did as little ones, most kids seemed to love the event, perhaps for its rarity and newness. Surely adults could say it was a joy disproportionate to the actual task. I did my nefarious part as well, keeping a steady supply of Halloween treats in bowls by both check-in and check-out tables for the taking. While adults grabbed the Reese’s Cups and 3 Musketeers bars, the kids who were allowed to pick almost invariably chose lollipops. I kept the handles within view and those went fast.

Some of the preschoolers also favored the other extra, the I VOTED stickers. As odd as the power of a parent counting down, stickers have their own magic.

Keep the kids coming. They are another reason for some to get to the polls. They are are spots of pleasure for the poll workers, with cuter and less dour, New England faces from the youngsters.

 

 

South End Rife with Music, 2015 Edition

September 26th, 2015

Yes, yes, it was the Boston jazz festival, the South End one, and since Berklee took it over, now the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The music college close to monopolizes it with faculty and students. Hell, there’s plenty of superb music for all of us anyway. Play on.

I went to the latest iteration today. It’s still free. It’s a food, clothing/jewelry marketplace and ethnic food vendor paradise. The terrific range of jazz, blues (not enough any more), funk and more pours out of three stages simultaneously. Take your pick.

A few of my sights and judgments follow. If you haven’t been going, you’ve missed much. There’s no atoning, just planning. Do this.

 

Carlos Averhoff, Jr. and his group featured the more modern, hotter sax, drum and more jazz. carlos
stefonharris4 The remarkable vibe guy Stefon  Harris played with Omar Thomas’ Large Ensemble. He kept at it the whole time and was a huge hit (with me as well). He’s another I’d gladly pay to hear.
Caili O’Doherty was another charming lyricist and composer, well adept at promoting her new album. They were good. Caili
Alissa
The Berklee table offered earplugs. That initially seemed like hipster irony. Then I trotted over to hear Alissia & the Funketeers, who seemed to be playing at jet-plane decibels.
We Four was a Berklee faculty-centered tribute to John Coltrane. They had my number, particularly the famous Javon Jackson on tenor sax. javon2
felix Felix Peikli  and the Royal Flush Quintet was colorful in ever sense. They’re a wonderful throwback to the nights of hot clarinets.
The Chorobop trio performed pre-WWII Brazilian dance music that had people grinding. chorobop


jfoster4

My pick for the afternoon was unquestionably Jackie Foster. She stunned the audience while singing as a guest of Marty Walsh (not at all our mayor) and Total Plan. She’s not quite 20. I have no qualms about predicting a fabulous career for her.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Listen for the White Squirrel in Boston

September 12th, 2015

This, the fifth year of the JP Music Fest, I caught the early (song)bird special bands. Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album.

 

Even early in the afternoon, Fur Purse was hard and powerful. Lead singer Eve left nothing behind the mic. furpurseeve3 - Copy
hstfdrums2 copy The Hyde Square Task Force was drum heavy and the best at getting the crowd moving (see below).
A huge hit for us jazz lovers was the (New England Conservatory’s) Alexei Tsiganov Trio. Alexei1
winshallbradford - Copy gtrumpetger for Daniel Winshall and the Walking Illusion,  Michael Bradford, kept pace with his kid maestro.
The very young and already highly acclaimed Daniel Winshall is a local favorite at places like Wally’s. winshall2 - Copy
junko4 - Copy Junko Ogawa was very original and self-possessed. Here she provides what she termed attitude in a send up of racism, “Oriental Rug.”
The Hyde Square Task Force inspired the locals to line and prance. hstfline1




jpfestwhite - Copy
It’s been a long time since we have seen a white squirrel, for real, at Jamaica Pond. They live in doll and t-shirt forms.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. It’s a set of 25.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.

 

Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.