Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Fair Fairmount Fare

July 19th, 2013

fairfairmount tstubI adore trains. How many times and ways have I said and written that?

Today was a splendid return from the big southern swing back into metro Boston. Foremost, I trotted down the hill to the Fairmount stop on the MBTA and took it into town.

That turns out to be a big deal in numerous ways:

  • They have increased the weekday sked (still not Sat/Sun trains…double boo)
  • They responded to grumbles, growls and snarls by reducing the fee to zone 1A (subway fare of $2) instead of zone 1 ($6), after all, we are in the city of Boston, dagnabbit
  • The walk is about 12 minutes and the ride to South Station in the intestines of downtown is 23 minutes
  • My new geezer card reduces the fare by half, so a round-trip was 2 (count ‘em, the same number as feet I have) dollars.

Now I truly, truly want everyone I know who has avoided the purple line to take the train, enough to ensure it thrives and enough to inspire the overlords at the MBTA to add night return trains and for crying out loud weekend trains. I”ll spread the word, here and elsewhere.

The experience was fine, albeit with the nervousness of seeing only a half dozen passengers on the 12:03 into town and maybe 20 on the 3:45 south.

This is pretty much the way the MBTA should be operating and charging for this in-town line.

Oddly enough, from what I heard and read at the national rail conference, Rail-volution, this Indigo Line is a model for everyone. We in Boston were largely unaware of two decades of Strum und Drang by by the neighborhoods from lower Hyde Park north into town. Fundamentally, the poorer, darker folk saw the wealthier, lighter folks’ trains speed by without any stops (as in zero) in their neighborhoods. They raised hell at city, commonwealth and federal level to get stops in their areas, transit-oriented development as the urban-planning cliché goes. They won and it was from the most local level up. They won, I write again.

So, it’s sweet on many levels to ride a quick, cool, clean efficient train into town at a fair fare from Fairmount.

 

Soft Opening, Solid Thrill

June 5th, 2013

grillebarFive of us at one table and two at another were among the fairly joyous Hyde Park sorts who noticed the Fairmount Grille’s Facebook announcement of a soft opening last evening. Only a banner hung outside the 81 Fairmount Ave site in Logan Square called passersby not to pass by.

As someone who really liked the previous Townsend’s in that spot for its four years, I’ve been figuratively pacing. Townsend’s shut last winter, but the owners passively obstructed the transition. For some reason, they held liquor license, which of course is essential for a bar/restaurant. The arcane, anachronistic Boston licensing does not allow even nominally for two licenses to be affiliated with one address. So the old license had to be revoked before another one could apply.

Perhaps more parochial and old-fashioned, there really aren’t enough liquor licenses to go around. Trot to any other sizable city and see that they are not afraid that something awful just might happen if there are two bars in a block. Bacchanals nightly! Anti-Puritan indulgence!

Regardless, with the Clarke’s in South Station becoming yet another drug store, that license migrated as Townsend’s went back into the treasure chest.

It seems Christopher Rassias got the restaurant and booze licenses and set up shop. He’d worked for numerous other such joints in town, mostly with Glynn Hospitality (Black Rose, Purple Shamrock and more). He told me last evening he was really ready to start his own.

Timing is superb. The popular The Hyde a little over a block away closed suddenly two weeks ago. The owner supposed retreated to Maine. Compounded with Townsend’s closing, that left a considerable hole in Logan Square. Rincon is across the street from the Hyde. Its limited Caribbean menu is good (particularly its goat stews), but it doesn’t have a full bar and seems to thrive with its DJ/dancing nights and its lunches. Around the corner on River Street, Master McGrath’s is a formidable, drink-all-day beer joint that sells a little bar food, and El Rancho has OK West Indies fare.  A little farther on Maple, Las Vegas Seafood (eh?) has good Haitian food, but is really a take-out joint.

fgrille

Logan and Cleary Squares didn’t have a good sit-down with booze…you know, a place with adult choices.

Same and different

So, The Fairmount Grille is likely to get business from the Townsend’s loyalists. The food is similar, priced about the same. The wine and beer selections are also reasonable in variety and cost. It was super to see the bar (in the same location) with stools shined again by singles and couples sliding into place.

All of that written, the soft opening had its predictable glitches. Moreover, some details are still unattended to by Rassias and his minions.

Perhaps most obvious, in addition to no marquee or sign visible driving on Fairmount Ave., the web presence really isn’t present. The Facebook page is OK. However, it doesn’t have enough info. The restaurant website it displays is not only incorrect (thefairmountgrille.com instead of fairmountgrille.com), but the real site is not active. You can’t see the menus and anything else. Rassais told a customer yesterday within my hearing that would be fixed real soon.

At our table we ordered a cocktail, some wines by the glass, a soda, and an ale. We had an appetizer touchstone for Boston eateries, fried calimari, and the house burger, fish and chips, Cobb salad, and stuffed poblanos. Our chums at the other table tried duck wings, a steak and something I’m blanking on with a couple of beers.

Everyone liked the food. I think the winner was Sara with the vegetarian poblanos. They were big, just spicy enough and not cooked to mushiness as so many restaurants pre-prepare them. Objections were real but minor. For example, those who put the house butter on the excellent (Fornax?) bread didn’t care for the stuff with some kind of sugar or homey mixed in unrequested. Also, Tallon spoiled customers with his great, regularly changing range of mussel dishes. For those of us who like such, that was a big selling point, but not represented here.

Beers were in the $5 to $7 range. They weren’t as varied as Townsend’s, where Michael Tallon took great pride in a large number of superb ales on tap.  Still, there were nothing beers like Bud, augmented by a dozen or so good ales and beers, with malty, hoppy and Belgian sorts to satisfy almost anyone with dinner. It was not a selection for a road trip to taste.

Wines by the glass were similar. Reasonably priced at $7 to $11, No one was going to feel ripped off. The selection of 8 or 10 whites and reds each had a range for most tastes. They didn’t have everything in stock yet. On a clumsy sidenote, I knocked over a glass shortly after the waiter arrived. He brought us cloths to clean up my spill but still charged for the replacement. It was my boner, but a savvy restaurant would not have charged, particularly with new customers.

At the end, one of our party wanted to split the bill and pay her part with her credit card. The staff and even the cash register troubleshooter who apparently wanted to be there for the first night could not make it work. A few minutes headed to a half hour, even with a couple of my visits to the register hallway. They didn’t get it working and eventually, I had them put everything on my card.

We also peeked as several other customers to see what shape the small back patio was in, as it was popular in its Townsend’s life. As my wife put it, right now it looks like the inside of our garage, with coiled hoses and such cluttering the space.

We’ll go back and look forward to trying their brunches when they get that together. Rassais seems open to comments and criticisms. I’ll see if I can get some more, better ales, for example. He seems already to know he has to get someone to give him a web presence.

Train Rant

One more notable aspect of the Logan and Cleary Square biz life. The inane MBTA zoning lets locals travel to West Medford or Malden or Chelsea for the subway fare ($2 with a Charlie Card). Down here, but in Boston city limits instead, the fare is $5.50 for Hyde Park, Readville and Fairmount. The Indigo Line proposal requests dropping the zone from 1 to 1A to put it at those suburban rates. That would definitely encourage business traffic, including to local restaurants.

Get your act together, MBTA. Let logic rule here!

Free-dumb on the 4th

July 5th, 2012

Visiting #1 Son and DIL around Independence Day of course has been full of obvious and subtle examples of freedom and restrictions. While the Fourth is ostensibly about casting off colonialism and occupation, we boomers go far beyond that.

Growing up with WWII parents and WWI grandparents, we are filled with grand and even naive ideals of cultural and personal. Those were reinforced by that newish TV, movies and all around us. American exceptionalism and frontier concept of freedom characterize and drive us.

My curmudgeonly comment today includes exasperation with 20 and 30 somethings who would try to excuse ignorance and lack of analysis saying they weren’t born when this or that occurred. That shows only a lack of knowledge, curiosity and perhaps intellect. The world did not begin spinning when you nor I arrived.

With my hoary head, I noticed our airport experiences and the heavy symbolism of a trio to Alcatraz.

For the former, recap it with removing shoes and belts keeps no one safe. We are both delusional and sheeplike pretending otherwise. Chants about sacrificing for safety or even that the mere theater of arbitrary and ineffectual TSA regulations and procedure dissuaded terrorists from plying their hellish aims are sad and un-American.

More to the metaphor on the Fourth, ferrying to the Alcatraz tour was an object lesson in freedom as well. Ceding all liberty as punishment for crimes is an Independence Day meditation.

We coursed through our day and night until early on the Fifth, interacting with other revelers, residents, citizen, cops barkeeps and such. We experienced the relative liberty boomers idealize in most places. We did show our papers – train, and boat tickets, credit cards and such on demand. Some instances were silly overkill, like three times each in the snaking, cordoned ferry line for The Rock, but in the main, we perked and went at will.

As a nation, we definitely have freely ceded too many liberties to feed our collective post-9/11 insecurities. We’re not likely going to regain those soon or easily.

More IT-Gone-Wacky Tales from FAST LANE

March 8th, 2012

Apparently there’s no pleasing me. A couple of years ago, I noted the incompetence of IT for the transponder program here in MA. Not only could they not suck money in real time or close to it to keep the $20 deposit flush for long trips, but if you called in to support, you have to give up your password over the phone to talk with a rep.

That’s right, your only security for an account that had access to your bank or credit card funds had to be spoken in the most insecure possible way, just to ask a question of support. Some support.

Well, that was true again and still last month. We replaced a vehicle and the stick ‘um stripes for the Velcro retainer did not hold on the new windshield. It seems they are designed this way and the FAQ on the MA DOT site says call in to get new strips.

Of course, I couldn’t even ask for that or explain at all why I was calling without spitting out my “secure” password. Not only that, but there is a separate PIN the agency assigns transponder users that you have to reveal. To see that, you need to log in with your account number and password, highlight the field at top and read that to the rep. Only then can you say you need to 2-inch strips to hold the box in place.

Honest to Ada Lovelace, computers were never designed to remove all mental processing capability from humans. We do that to ourselves and each other.

After eight minutes to inane bureaucracy, my silly rep was satisfied I was the person I represented myself to be and that I deserved the two strips. They arrived about four days later in a #10 envelope. Control freak I am, I thought and told the woman in support that this function should be automated and a menu choice from your account. Of course, that would be less for support to support.

Today’s episode was getting my monthly email of the FAST LANE statement. That includes a link to the DOT site. It has brought up the log-in screen and retrieved my account number and password from a cookie. Good enough.

Not today though. Instead, I got a screen worthy of the Bastard Operator from Hell. Not only could I not do as I had for years, but the stored data was gone. I had to track down my seven-digit account number (which serves as user name), and then bow to the new FAST LANE password schema.

So the old four-character (a.k.a. mnemonic) PW was not good enough. There was no advising about the level. I had to do what the screen said or forever be locked out of my account info. Instead, it meant contriving a new PW that was eight or more characters, and included “at least one of each”:

  • Upper-case letters
  • Lower-case letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters (the punctuation and symbols on the keyboard)

Something you can remember? Forget it!

A tricky non-word or meaningful-to-you number with a funky symbol somewhere? Forget it!

The new PW had to meet five BOFH rules. So there.

Plus, there’s a note at the bottom of the PW hazing screen that you still need to have access to the DOT-assigned PIN as well to get any help from alleged support.

These IT satraps do have real power in their tiny provinces, power they abuse. The only question is are they ignorant of how much trouble they’ll cause in aggregate by their bureaucratic inconvenience or are they being malicious, as in “Let’s make ‘em dance.”?

God Bless Giraffes

January 19th, 2012

Hamisi1Truth be told, giraffes are my favorite animal. They are beautiful and have an elegant stride, oh, and compelling eyes.

So, I have been emotionally caught up in reportage of Europeans and Americans who shoot giraffes for sport. Trophy hunting of giraffes is by no means dangerous, but it is very expensive $10,000 or more for the experience (plus $2,000 trophy fee).

No Screams

An understandable giraffe myth is that they make no sounds. While they often do not vocalize, they can — moms bellow for lost offspring, males hoping to mate snort, all will bleat on occasion and such.

More obviously, both in the wild as well as in zoos and preserves, they munch plants all day. They run and play with each other. They are gentle herbivores, who are violent rarely. Their only real weapon is a super-strong kick, which can maim or kill a predator such as a lion. Males will sometimes fight each other over a female by swinging their heads at each other.

While I eat meat, I do not believe nor understand hunting for sport.  With mammals as benign, as harmless as giraffes, it makes no sense at all. I have read and seen enough, and have enough hunter relatives and acquaintances, to know some of the other side, such as:

  • Tracking and killing large cats, bears and such is perilous, manly and an expression of a primal struggle for life
  • Hunters of deer and other ruminants cull the overpopulated herd, keeping the survivors healthy and in stasis
  • Some hunters butcher and eat what they kill, equating it with store-bought meat, with the benefit of pelts

Giraffe trophy hunters don’t have any of those arguments. Instead, per that article in the Sun linked above and numerous safari-company sites, it runs:

  • A half dozen African countries allow legal giraffe slaughter
  • The countries use the fees to support their local economy
  • When the residents know hunts are legal and they can get paid for these, they do it rather than poach giraffes for their skins. As one safari guy put it, “Rhino and other animals have been saved through conservation and the most money for conservation is generated from hunting.”

Hierarchy of Affection

Another truth from me is that I am no adherent of ahimsa. I swat mosquitoes, for example, although yesterday, I did remove a fair sized spider from my bathroom by hand, placing it on plants on the deck to scurry off to safety.

Moreover, I regularly eat muscle meat and fish that I purchase. I’m country enough to know chickens don’t grow in shrink-wrapped packages. In fact, I’ve eviscerated fish, plucked chickens and such. It is the sport aspect — the thrill of the kill — that I have never wanted nor understood.

I grew up around hunters. I think of my mother’s brother and his three sons. They loved shooting animals and particularly pleased my country grandmother when they showed up with a deer haunch. They butchered it and we had venison out of the freezer for many meals, including actual mincemeat pie.

I have species prejudice. The idea of killing a whale or any cetacean appalls me. They are far too close to us in brain capacity and are very human in many ways, short of being cruel and ambitious.

From there, I feel an affinity for the great and lesser apes. I identify less and feel less protective of other species, particularly vermin sorts like rats and squirrels. For learned emotional reasons, I would not kill nor eat a cat, dog or other pet variety.

Because I Can

796px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_105-DOA0377,_Deutsch-Ostafrika,_GiraffeWhile not strongly anti-hunting, I do listen to hunters, who like fishermen love to talk about what they do. Many I have known from childhood, into school and college and as an adult, fall into several types. A few truly seem to be those conservation type. They enjoy the outdoors, truly believe that they keep herds healthy through culling, and eat their kills.

My emotional problem is with the many I have known or heard who plainly simply like to kill. The glee they express in describing shooting animals and watching them struggle and die is freaky, scary. We should be glad they have an outlet and are not driven to turning on us.

Likewise for giraffes, there are numerous descriptions and short videos that illustrate both types. Search trophy hunting giraffes to find both safari companies and people opposed to such doings. Oddly, the videos of tourists killing giraffes, posing (invariably under an arced neck) and bragging about it are on both types of sites. One family’s murder is another’s adventure.

Giraffe hunting is not new, of course. The picture above is a pre-WWI one with natives who with their prey. They would eat the animal and sell the hide — old style and not for amusement.

Seeing the videos of the modern version reminds me of a visit to the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Mr. Photography loved killing African mammals. His rooms share the building with photography museum. There are elephant and other heads on walls, desks covered in hippo hide and such, and outsized artifacts like umbrella stands made of elephant or hippo feet.

He was quite a control freak, it seems. His journals specify how he micromanaged each trip, down to how many socks of what type each person would bring and precisely what the provisions would be for every meal. In the end, so to speak, he hunted himself as well. He was getting physically feeble and rather than forgo such excursions, he brought in acquaintances one or more at a time, conversing at length to show he was rational (and his will would not be contested), and then killed himself with his favorite pistol. The journals and pistol are on display a floor above the animal trophies.

Long-Necked Muses

Back to giraffes, I am fond of them. As they threaten no one and they are not overpopulated, why should anyone kill them? Short of because humans are atop the food chain and can fairly much slaughter animals at will, I don’t see any good reason.

Those who walk near these 16 to 19 foot tall herbivores and shoot them dead speak on those videos proudly. It does not seem like much of a challenge or accomplishment.

Contrast that with the account in the 1897 The Encyclopaedia of sport, Volume 1 (page 452):

In South Africa the giraffe is invariably hunted on horseback a form of sport which has always had great attractions for English sportsmen. There is nothing finer in nature than the sight of a troop of giraffes in full flight and the excitement of the find and the run up is intense. In its slower paces the giraffe with its curious gliding walk is extremely deceptive It is in reality travelling at a rapid rate. When thoroughly roused these animals are capable putting first rate hunting horses to their utmost speed. It is well to remember that unless the hunter plies sjambok and spur and rides his very hardest at the flying troop in the first two miles of chase he may lose them altogether. At a steady slinging gallop giraffes will travel for hours and wear out a horse but if chased very hard and forced beyond their pace early in the run the hunter will be enabled to ride close up to the particular beast he may single out and put in his shots from the saddle. Some hunters prefer to get up within a hundred yards jump off and fire. In the opinion of the writer and of many experienced African sportsmen it is better to push one’s horse close up to the stern of the giraffe and within a few yards fire from the saddle. A good South African hunting pony needs little guiding in a run of this description and the rider can drop his reins and safely use both hands. The best point to aim at whether on foot or on horseback is the root of the tail. The giraffe’s body is very short and a well planted solid bullet travels right into the vitals of the animal and speedily brings it down broken limb will also effectually bring down giraffe.

The same text notes that giraffes are defenseless against humans. The only danger is if one is dumb and clumsy enough to come in from behind and get kicked.

Anyone with a rifle can kill a giraffe. The guides drive a short distance away. There’s no pony chase, mounted shooting or risk. The giraffes are not skittish and seem to observe the hunters with curiosity, at least until the shots bring down one of theirs.

Putting money into the local economy does not seem at all a justification here. Again, there is no need to cull giraffes, they harm no one and nothing, and hunting them is neither challenging nor dangerous. It seems the hunters should be ashamed to return with a hide or head of these gentle giants.

As the guide company repeatedly point out, such hunts are legal in numerous countries. They offer menus such as on this page, with the per diem as well as the trophy fee, for the long list of animals you can kill. I suppose that’s free enterprise, African style, although U.S. and Canadian hunting preserves have similar plans on less exotic beasts.

It is not in my nature to hunt for sport. I am sad that beautiful, gracious, gentle giraffes die for the titillation of tourists. With the many fulfilling ways to get pleasure in this life that do not bring pain and death, they have chosen most poorly.

Better Than Your Vacation

January 11th, 2012

From Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord’s Cricket Ground, keeper of the laws of the game, you may buy USB memory sticks for £10, plus shipping. They are in the shape of a cricket bat and come pre-loaded with the laws.

batcampFor quite a bit more, you can take your offspring from 5 through 12 years of age off the St. Vincent or Sardinia to learn cricket from two gods of the game. Neither the ad on the front of the Financial Times (shown and click for closeup) nor the Super Skills Travel website deals in such crass details as the cost. If you have to ask, as FT readers might say. After all, this newspaper’s regular glossy magazine a few times a month is How To Spend It.

Instead, you are to call or email to book.

While you loll, one former and one current cricket star, one OBE and the other MBE, Michael Vaughan and Matthew Hogard, will turn your pubescent child(ren) into passable batsmen and bowlers. The kiddies get two hours on pitch each weekday. That presumably will exhaust them to the point they will lie passively and quietly and complacently by you poolside.

Billed in the ad as The family holiday of a lifetime,  this surely is more defensible, if considerably more expensive, than fantasy American baseball or football camps for delusional men. At the island resort, if you want your Richie Rich to, well yes, be able to play the national game, but more important, sew up contacts as well as garner (understated) bragging rights to take back to boarding school, grab this. Age 13 comes too quickly.

Too Much Virgin Mary

October 11th, 2011

micpietaBoy, did I get sick of the Pieta.

Michelangelo’s marble gasp maker (here in a Creative Commons pic) became a yawn maker in 1964 and 1965. Everyone, her brother, three kids and friends had to see it at the New York World’s Fair. It was what we now call a meme and was a quiet but relentless must-see object for millions of Americans.

Sometimes, I thought they were all staying with us. Relatives we hardly could place and numerous chums from the many states we’d lived as a family suddenly remembered us in our new location 20 some miles west of NYC. We were a pied à terre for many, many feet.

“Oh, yes, we definitely want to see the Pieta when we go to the World’s Fair,” they say. They’d all say.

So, there I was, a teen and tour guide. My mother either worked or maybe hid from some of these trips, but my sister a bit and I a lot found ourselves trucking to Flushing, Queens again and again and one more time.

It’s a nice piece of work. I think I originally found it strikingly beautiful, but after dozens of viewings, I found it a commercialized irritant.

To Roman Catholics, this was more than a famous work of art. There were the Holy Mother and the recently dead Savior by one of the world’s greatest sculptors in one of the world’s greatest cities in one of those rare world’s fairs. Moreover, transporting this was a huge deal, logistically, economically and even diplomatically. In fact, the Vatican had a reproduction commissioned to ship to prove that the original could make it flawlessly. That remains in a seminary in New York State a half century later — suddenly disposable. Moreover for the Catholics, the Pieta was herald and harbinger for Pope Paul VI, who wrapped up the statue’s visit with one of his own, plus, of course, mass. The science-fiction-movie scape of the fairgrounds remains, replete with skeletal gigantic globe and a plaza marking where the Pope’s slippers stood and he prayed.

As a non-Catholic, I was less than blessed. What I knew is that the summers and holidays would be scheduled tightly with religious and art tourists.

In fairness, many were Southerners and gracious and generous. They’d treat me to transit and food. Yet, each was intent on riding the holy conveyor belt by the image of the dead Savior.

And a conveyor belt it was. The fair organizers were nothing if not efficient. They projected quite accurately that the curious and devout alike were each was a potential constipator of the great viewing tract. There could be no prolonged gawking or praying time. There certainly was no rosary saying.

The Pieta got overhead lighting and appeared ghastly white, far more morbid than the image above as it appears in the Vatican. the background, the whole room, was dark blue. I assume that represented the heavens, with the white lights kind of standing in for stars. There actually was a people-moving conveyor. You’d wait on line, then step lively onto the moving walk, and be literally and maybe figuratively transported past mother and son.

That got pretty old. By the time I was into my second dozen viewing, I would have liked to be able to double or triple the conveyor speed. You want holy statuary? Here. Pow! Thank you and good-bye.

Instead, I regret not buying a shrunken head.

The first few times I was there, I saw clearly fake shrunken heads, in the international pavilion. I think they were from Ecuador and the Jivaro there. I had rubber rats and skulls and such and admired the detail of these models, but they were pricey for me at the time, I think  $50. I didn’t spend all my money on one.

As it turns out, they were real. The Times and Herald reported that the pavilion tendering them was informed to their surprise that such human parts were illegal to import and sell in this country. And I could have had a truly disgusting artifact, had I been sharp and quick enough.

Many of my tourists left with Pieta nicknacks, but none had any interest in shrunken heads.

Good? Habits

October 1st, 2011

Sometimes one of our two sons still at home locks the back door when one of us is on the deck, working in the yard or unloading a vehicle. We can’t get angry. We’ve taught them to close and lock the doors.

Recently on the trip to Block Island, I found another illogical habit grounded in good reasoning. That is, as my wife and I biked around the wee, hilly resort, I constantly checked my side mirror.

BIbikes1

That’s a good safety move, except the mirrors are on my bikes in Boston and not on the rental provided by the inn. Next time I go where I’ll rent a bike, I’ll bring a spare mirror.

For most of the rides, I was in front. My wife got chuckles as she realized that a few times a minute, I’d turn to the non-mirror. If I wanted to see where she was or what vehicle was rumbling behind us, I’d have to do the owl neck-turning thing.

Whether it’s in a car or on a bike, I constantly locate myself with the mirrors. It’s habit of mind and muscles. By the time we were through two days of cycling on BI, I stopped reflexively looking at my left handle bar end, but only by fighting the urge when I felt it. I still wanted to look.

That’s not the only habituation I have with bikes. I recall over 20 years ago when we moved to the bottom of Jamaica Plain, I’d climb on my bike and instinctively expect to buckle a seat belt.

That goes way back. My first car, in 1965, was a 1955 Pontiac Chieftain. It was sturdy like Refrigerator Perry or a tug boat. It would have won in any collision.

Yet, I bought into the seat belt idea. As cars back then did not come with them, I went to Pep Boys, bought them, drilled holes and put them in. I insisted friends and GFs wear belts. No fool, I put three belts in the front too for proximity assurance.

I’m positively anal about seat belts. No one in a car I drive goes without or the car doesn’t go anywhere. So………..come a bike, I laughed at myself as I reached for a seat belt. Yet it took quite a few rides until I was comfortable heading off without one.

We habituated animals teach ourselves good, neutral and bad tricks.

Hole in Ground Zero

September 26th, 2011

Yeah, yeah, Boston skies were raining hard at 4:46 AM when I left. So, I decided not to bring a camera and risk ruining it. I was headed to NYC for two days and a night. Traveling without my digital companion was odd, feeling naked odd. I would have the cellphone, with its sort of pic ability. A few of those follow.

My wife was down for a multi-day company meeting. Their NY HQ was directly connected to the 9/11 catastrophe site. The new one was rebuilt two blocks away. The company-designated hotel is adjacent to the WTC site, Club Quarters New York World Trade Center. I was intellectually prepared to be there. As a Bostonian of decades and a former Manhattanite, I had it covered.

Emotionally, I turned out not to be.

During our dovetailed stay, my wife and I refreshed each other on the 9/11 personal presence. I had been in an important (I knew at the time) meeting with my international software company. I was a principal, leading a discussion with our local engineers and the Israeli test and development team. I had gigantic paste-ups of MS Project sheets and was brimming with busyness.

Our conference room was packed with intense, intent geeks when Jeannie, the office manager, opened the door. She didn’t knock, which was unlike her. She was pale and wide-eyed, which was rare for her too. She said something like, “Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center. You need to stop your meeting.”

We all walked next door to a room with a TV, watched the second plane hit and the towers collapse.

So, just after 10 years later, I had a grip on it….or not.

cranesnycLast weekend, we overlooked the site. From the 18th floor, we could see directly into that pit. From the restaurant on the top floor, the 20th, we could look west to New Jersey and north to the new WTC 1 building. Everywhere, we could see and hear the 24/7 reconstruction of the site. Machinery I knew well from a previous life as a trade-journal editor lifted for the new and dug to prepare for the new-new. Cranes were a hand clasp in the sky. Hydraulic excavators (some Cat dealer is making a fortune on this contract) dug for the foundations for WTC 2 and 3.

Any trip by or to the windows displayed one massive truck after another heaped with dirt and rock from the site before pulling out. All day, all night, America was righting what Bin Laden ruined.

dignycI found it wrenching. I thought a decade on, many hundreds of thousands of words read, sounds heard, images seen that I was fine. Yet each glance or stare from the 18th or 20th floors ate at me. I also slept poorly, even though the hotel walls and windows were well insulated from sound. I just knew.

Apparently my disquiet is not universal. My wife was in meetings when I arrived and I sat by the entrance to the 9/11 memorial on a Jersey barrier. One phalanx after another of t-shirted firefighters crowded and knelt for snaps with the site and new WTC 1 building as backdrop. Their shirts were from stations in Ohio and California and Pennsylvania. They posed and waved.

I saw clots of middle-aged women with the stereotypical mannishly short easy-to-care-for do trailing hubbies and sons, lining up with their tickets for the site tour. On the hour, people queued concert-style behind metal frame chutes to walk the mud, see the two pools, and crook their necks at WTC 1.

I saw more Amish than I had outside of Pennsylvania and Ohio. There were women and girls from 70 to 14 dressed in their full drabness with their gauzy white plain caps like yarmulkes. Dads had suspenders and all looked terrifically un-New York but very comfortable in themselves. They paused and photographed too.

After checking into my wife’s room, I had lunch two blocks south. The two active tables were filled with firefighters from distant places in their station t-shirts.

FFsIn meals on the 20th, many diners of all ages posed on the balcony with the WTC 1 as backdrop. Most smiled their here-I-am-at-the-notable-location grins. Some were reflective, but nearly all were gleeful as any tourist at any site, loading up the slide-show lineup.

Sunday morning, we happened upon the 10th tunnel-to-towers run, just south of the hotel. The pipers were piping, the cops keeping people behind barriers, and 343 uniformed NYC firefighters lined the Battery Tunnel exit, each wearing a photo placard of one of their brethren who died rescuing those trapped on 9/11.

The run has raised millions of dollars, mostly destined to build houses for quadriplegics from the current wars. It traces the route Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller took that day. He was off and headed to play golf with his brothers when he heard about the first plane on the scanner. He drove to his station, loaded up with his 60 pounds of gear, found the tunnel closed, and ran the three miles through it to the towers…and his death.

A decade later, there are many tears, both from the firefighters and the surviving family members and the runners.

Block Island’s Markers

September 16th, 2011

This week, we biked and walked around Block Island for three days. As a iconography fan and cemetery tourist, I went to the Island Cemetery and the Indian Cemetery there. They could hardly be more different.

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The Narragansett lived on the island from maybe 1300 BC. The smallish Indian Cemetery in the middle of the bottom of BI is only vaguely like our European ideas. While there are a few labeled tombstones, most of those with any stone are very close together (upright, non-casket burials), raw native rock, and no markings. The humor at the moment is that more and more white folk are asking for green burials that just return the bodies to the earth. BIindian1
BIdodgewinged The main cemetery started in the mid-17th century, but had few classic N.E. iconography examples, and no visible, sturdy slate. Here’s one of the winged transitional imagery.
There was iconography artistry though. With different carvers than those in Northern N.E., much style went into such standard images as the willow, indicating life. BIwillow
BImottwillow Several used the 3D version of the willow.
Small details, such as the background placement of the urn indicating the body, show the artist’s interpretation and skill. BIwillow1
BIheavenclose Among similarities with N.E. stones, the heavenward index finger appeared on many stones.
Likewise, the hand clasp of farewell with an implicit promise of greeting later was on numerous stones. BImitchellclose
BInicholasballpen Only a few showed lots of ego. When the King of Block Island, Nicholas Ball (might be a relative) died in 1896, he set himself up with a royal marker. The top had a pen and journal because he wrote self-aggrandizing travel memoirs, an anchor and rope because he was a sea captain, and construction tools because he designed and had built BI’s huge hotel.
As proof of colonial and young nation’s high infant mortality, there are many 17th through 19th century markers. Some were for yet-to-be-named children. BIbabe4
Bibabe1 Many were elaborate, even more so than the parents’ stones. Of these, the marker was often for an only child.
One child’s stone stand up and out for its candor. Here the only offspring, Lora Rose of Ambrose and Laura, died at just under two and one-half. The scold to the Almighty reads simply, “God takes the good” — nuff said. BIbabe2