Friday, February 17, 2012

friday photoblog: the boston book festival

Derrick and I struck a deal one weekend this fall. 

Saturday we'd live in Nickiland and go to the Boston Book Festival, where she could sit in rapt attention as real, live authors sat in front of her and waxed poetics on writing, on philosophy, and on apple recipes (of COURSE we went to the food writing seminar). 

Sunday we'd take a detour deep into Derrickland and head to the Wellfleet Oyster Festival (pictures next week), an all-day oyster gorgefest on the Cape, where Derrick could wax poetics on the Love of his Life and the Most Glorious Thing in Existence: the raw Wellfleet oyster. 

In other words, one of us was in a constant state of delirious rapture all weekend.

Note the delirious rapture in my expression

The Festival took place in Copley Square, home of the Boston Public Library, AKA One of the Prettiest Buildings in the World.

The Edgar Allan Poe view

I think the New York Public Library is one of the prettiest buildings in existence, but believe me, the Boston Public Library gives it a real run for its money.

Now I can't be in an old library without hoping the Ghostbusters will swoop in unexpectedly

I know I talk about it all the time, but I really do come from farm country. One-stoplight-town, cows and chickens for neighbors, playing in barns, riding horses, fishing, climbing trees, making mudpies barefoot in the creek. 

I know I write wide-eyed love letters to Boston all the time. I know all the city kids are out there going "Yes, Nicki, we get it. You live in a city. You have public transit and awful traffic. Whattya want, a goddamn medal?"

But I'm still shocked that I live here. I still can't believe how comfortable I am living here. I can't believe that I moved within a crowd of 25,000 people like I belonged. 

Because I don't belong. I shouldn't belong. I'm a one-horse-town, a one-trick-pony. I don't belong with streetlights and subway stations.

But I do. 


It's like Kat wrote in a recent comment: "I hate cities. But I love Boston."

Forgive the terrible photo quality, but I had to share this

I sometimes feel like I should tone down my love letters. I've gotta be isolating my readers, right? I mean,  why should my Australian readers care about Boston? For that matter, why should the Texan ones?

((Hi Mary and Chanel))

But under that logic, why should I write about anything? Why should I write about my fears, my memories, or my childhood unicorn fantasies? Under that logic, everything's off limits, because everything's irrelevant. 

I never wanted to write grand sweeping pieces. Never wanted to write epic books, never wanted to write in-depth, hard-hitting news. I wanted to write this: 

"The subjects I was drawn to were often completely ordinary, but I was confident that I could find something extraordinary in their ordinariness. I really believed that anything at all was worth writing about if you cared about it enough, and that the best and only necessary justification for writing any particular story was that I cared about it. The challenge was to write these stories in a way that got other people as interested in them as I was."
--Susan Orlean

Bahn Mi from Bon Me...sorry, kids, but nothing's going to beat my $3 banh mi spot in Chinatown

So that's my challenge, I guess.

And it that doesn't work, I can always fall back on my backup plan: posting pictures of wood nymphs taunting babies.

Friday, February 10, 2012

friday photoblog: when boston came a'courtin'

I fell in love with Boston in January 2011. I moved there in June. It didn't seem that sudden at the time. To read that now looks...insane.

 Those of you who followed both the Wandering Blues and the Match Day Madness series know how utterly mad those six months were. As we struggled to figure out where we'd be living that summer, I blogged it all. I wrote about Gainesville. I wrote about Baltimore. I wrote about NYC.  But I never wrote about Boston. 

I don't think I knew how. 

I didn't want to jinx it, maybe. I didn't know how to put Boston in words. So I shut my mouth -- and I hoped. And Derrick opened his Match Day envelope, and that envelope said Boston. 

I will never forget how that felt.

We came to Boston in January -- Derrick had an interview, true, but our main reason for coming was to speed-date the city. Could we live here? Could he? Could I? 

Boston got walloped with 16 inches of snow on the day before we were set to arrive, causing our flight to be cancelled. Twice. Once after we had already gotten up at 5 a.m. and driven to the airport (on the way home, our flight got cancelled and we had to spend the night in Philly. With a lobster. The airport gods were not looking favorably upon us that trip).

We navigated the subway system, got dinner at the second oldest restaurant in Boston (it was unimpressive), and we sampled every local microbrewery beer we could find.

I expected to find a smaller version of NYC -- high heels, sharp eyes, a ruthlessly fast pace. I didn't. People walk slower. They smile more. They're quick to give advice (whether you ask for it or not). They ask you what you're ordering at the Asian sandwich shop.

My first banh mi sandwich... a THREE DOLLAR banh mi sandwich, I might add)

We set out to do the Freedom Trail. All of it. It was freezing. A Boston baptism by fire, we figured -- if we can handle Boston at its harshest, in freezing temperatures and 16 inches of snow, we can handle Boston any time.

This is the Godfather Pigeon of Boston Common. We named him FatPigeon. We marveled at his girth.
Now that I've been to Boston Common several times, I can safely say FatPigeon is not that fat. He's about average for all the animals in Boston Common.
Obesity. It's an epidemic. The More You Know.
Hey! Derrick! Take a picture of me in front of this random fountain!

Specialized hookers, please use the entrance on the other side of the building.
Yes. That's a sea captain snowman on that boat. And you wonder why I'm in love with this city?
You thought of Star Wars too, right? Right?!?
This is the part of the Freedom Trail that becomes less "quaint red brick line that winds through our historic treasure of a town" and becomes more "ghetto red line painted on concrete"
Follow the yellow brick -- er, red brick -- er, red painted line of a road

The light at the end of the tunnel is...CAMBRIDGE!
Cambridge likes to confuse itself with NYC, apparently
We did join them for brunch. And we did not regret it. Because...

...there were cocktails. Fan-freaking-tastic cocktails.

I came into this post expecting to dive into a long, gushing manifesto about how I fell in love with this town -- but I realize now I don't need to. I'm realizing I can't. Sometimes even a writer can't tell a love story. 

But that doesn't mean her camera can't.

Friday, February 3, 2012

friday photoblog: what happens when you stumble upon a marathon and an Occupy protest in the same day

Two Friday photoblogs in a row? What is this? 2010?

Derrick's family came up to visit this fall. We drank. We laughed. We made short ribs. Derrick's 2-year-old nephew took a strange and sudden liking to our Wham! "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" record*. It was a good time.

*we did not pay money for said record, I swear. it came with a collection of my mother's records, including but not limited to: over 15 Duran Duran records, Hall & Oates, the Footloose soundtrack, Rick Springfield (!), the "Do They Know It's Christmas" single, Phil Collins, and -- wait for it -- Run DMC. I'm going to wait for you to stop laughing before I continue.

Derrick's sisters are both ridiculously artistic, smart as a whip, and outrageously pretty. Model-pretty. Like, I look into their eyes and I feel compelled to either run out and buy 30 Michael Kors handbags or kill myself because I'll never achieve that level of effortless gorgeousness. These girls can rock a goddamn towel like it's a Zac Posen original. I know. I've seen it. We only have one bathroom. I became intimately acquainted with these girls in towels. I wore eight towels every time I showered. Including one for my face. 

Also? They know how to walk in those pretty sky-high heels without looking like a drunken giraffe. I want to ask them for lessons but I'm afraid it's a gene I wasn't born with.

Hey. If it's genetics, Derrick would have that gene.

If I just got him drunk enough...


Anyway, as if rocking tanned skin and gorgeously toned muscles wasn't enough to render me speechless every time I'm around them, both girls own top-of-the-line drool-worthy cameras. One sister in particular has my dream, end-all, beat-all, bucket-list camera. It's beautiful. I want to lick it. 

She-of-the-Beautiful-Camera decides there's nothing she'd like better than to spend a day wandering through Boston, beautiful camera in hand. 

Oh, hey there, soul mate. 

Did I mention she also makes a killer (low-fat) White Russian and can put them away (almost) as neatly as I do? And she also makes her mimosas the same way I do: just enough OJ to tint it orange? 

I know. Derrick has some amazing women in his family. 

So we headed out to explore this newfound city of mine. And oh, God, the things we stumbled upon while we were out. It was honestly the most randomly serendipitous day I've ever had in my entire life.

We start in Boston Common. Because that's what you do when you take anyone to Boston. It used to be a public execution ground, now it's a park where people take young kids and puppies,  what's not to love? 

The park is also rife with random statues, fat squirrels, and relatively few rapists. Again: what's not to love?

We're taking pictures, doing touristy things, watching people play fetch or picnic or get engaged and such when we hear a woman who sounds suspiciously like Sue Sylvester start talking to a group of yet-unidentified "Ladies."

We're intrigued. We move closer. 

And we stumble upon a full-fledged 10K. Just for women. Well, "just for women" with a few suspicious males. I couldn't tell if they were transgendered folks, spouses that got sucked into running, or breast cancer survivors. 

And Sue Sylvester the Announcer? Hilarious. She seriously sounded like a cross between Sue Sylvester and Oprah. Like, YOU GET A BLUE RIBBON and YOU GET A BLUE RIBBON and YOU DON'T GET A BLUE RIBBON BECAUSE NO ONE EVER TOLD YOU NEVER TO WEAR SPANDEX BLENDS IN PUBLIC.

She kept saying "motivational" things like, "Raise your hand if you're a survivor! Raise your hand if you're a winner! Raise your hand if you're a mother! Raise your hand if you're a daughter!"

"Aren't they all daughters?" Derrick asked.


I mean, they were playing Lady Gaga and everything.

Derrick and I lead the way on an abbreviated version of the Freedom trail, from Faneuil Hall to the North End....

And yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the trip when I walk into a 100-year-old bakery and ask an elderly Italian women if I could take a picture of her rack.

I meant "display case." Really. I didn't even get a picture of her actual rack. Now I wish I would've. At least then I would've been honest.

We make it to Regina Pizzeria, the most famously delicious pizza in Boston. It's delicious. Ungodly delicious. I-can-easily-eat-a-whole-pie-myself delicious. If-you-don't-come-to-Boston-and-eat-this-pizza-you-will-miss-out-on-a-slice-of-heaven-the-world-has-never-known delicious. They plunk that pizza down in front of you and you dive in like a Chilean miner, my friend. So what if you're stuck down there for days? It's Regina Pizzeria. I could live for eighteen years on Regina Pizzeria.

Thanks, blog, for making me crave pizza. Really. Because those mega Sam Adams cravings you sent last week weren't enough. Really. Thanks.

So we're walking home with a belly full of Regina and we stumble upon a massive gathering of people. All marching in the same direction. Bruins game getting out? Maybe. But I'm not seeing a swarm of black-and-gold -- in fact, I'm seeing police cars and -- are those picket signs? 

Why yes, Nicki. Yes they are.

"What is this?" Derrick's sister keeps asking. 

"It's Occupy Boston," I keep answering. Finally, she says, "Yeah, I got that, but what is it?"

Keep in mind that this is back when the Occupy movement was at its greenest -- no park sweeps, no make-do amplification systems, no impromptu libraries, no major media coverage outside of a few meager Occupy Wall Street articles. Imagine trying to explain a movement who doesn't know how to define itself yet to someone else. These pictures reflect that. This is no unified "WE ARE THE 99%" movement -- this is a bunch of angry people coming together to voice their concerns. Concerns on housing, concerns on war, concerns on unemployment, local concerns, national concerns, a big beautiful melting pot of anger that was impossible to explain.

So I don't. I just repeat, "It's Occupy Boston." And I stare. 

I feel a little stirring somewhere -- something like remember when you used to be abreast of every movement, every protest, every riot? Remember when you didn't just know what was going in the lower 48-- you knew every political climate from Nigeria to Taiwan to Burkina Faso to Germany

Ahh, stop your eye-rolling, readers. I'm not a political soul. I will never try to convince you that your political/religious/ideological beliefs are unsound. You won't change my mind, I won't change yours. But I did used to believe staying informed was one of the greatest weapons a citizen could wield. And this girl who almost majored in International Studies: Conflict Resolution, this Model UN Secretary General, this wide-eyed girl with a belief that she could change the world lost touch with that.

Please don't misunderstand me: this is not a sweeping, glowing appreciation of the Occupy Movement. This is not a plea for y'all to go out and read BBC news 'til your head explodes. This is just a personal understanding, a self-awakening. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I used to listen to the BBC World Service every morning. I used to care. And I started caring again. Subscribed again to Time (say what you want, I can get through them every week). Started reading online news again. Started reacquainting myself with the world at large. 

Because standing and watching that massive flood of people pass you by, you remember why it's important to care -- because humanity is something too vast and varied to be written off with a smile or a shrug. Because next to the outraged protesters and the tragic stories and the heartbreak and the sadness and the anger I saw this:

And this -- whatever this means or represents or does or thinks -- this group of people moving and thinking and fighting about something you may or may not believe in --  this is worth caring about. 

Especially when they do it with a sense of humor.