Best of Boston, Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

 

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Flight of the Angel

Last August, I wrote about the annual Feast of St. Anthony that takes place in Boston’s Italian North End.  Called “the Feast of All Feasts,” it’s the culmination of the summer season’s celebrations of faith, Italian culture, and food – and the biggest block party you could ever imagine.  However, this year, on the Sunday night prior to the St. Anthony Feast, I ventured down to North and Fleet Streets for the Fisherman’s Feast because an Italian-American friend promised me a spectacle “unlike anything you’ve ever seen!”  She wasn’t kidding.

The tradition of the Fisherman’s Feast was brought to Boston by Sicilian immigrants in the early 1900’s to commemorate the fishermen’s great devotion to the Madonna del Soccorso (Our Lady of Help).  Every August, to coincide with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Flight of the Angel takes place at the conclusion of the Fisherman’s Feast.

A large crowd gathered at dusk, awaiting the arrival of the statue of the Madonna and the little angels who pray to her.  Trumpets played and everyone cheered when the statue of the Madonna approached. Spotlights shone on two skirted third-story balconies, directly across from one another.  A little girl dressed as an angel appeared on one of the balconies and began praying in Sicilian.  Soon, the second little angel appeared on the opposite balcony.  With the help of some elaborate cables, she began her descent until she was lowered down to greet the statue.  Still suspended, she also prayed to the Madonna.  The crowd went wild cheering and throwing confetti.

But what was truly remarkable about this scene was not that these little girls had memorized a rather lengthy prayer in Italian, or how the many hands holding the cables did everything with such care and precision, or even how beautiful the statue was.  It was extraordinary to witness the devotion of so many people, and the great sense of community that devotion had inspired.  Younger people made spaces on the crowded street and sidewalk for older folks, as folding chairs seemingly appeared as if by magic for these elders.  Adults lifted children up – not even their own children – so the youngsters could get a better look.  And despite the lack of a significant police presence, when the ceremony was over, the thousand-plus crowd disbursed in a respectful and organized fashion.  I’m sure the Madonna del Sorrorso was smiling down on all of us.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Poolside

Growing up, I spent my summers at our town pool.  My mother, brother, and I formed a little parade as we walked through the parking lot, carrying beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, and a cooler.  On the weekends, my father joined us, and led the parade.  Nothing was planned yet we always found neighbors and friends to sit with, and we’d set up camp for the day.  No one worried about getting too much sun.  Although some of the ladies swam rather awkwardly, craning their necks so their hair wouldn’t get wet.  Funny how my brother and his friends would take a running start and cannonball into the water as these ladies tried, in vain, to shield their hairdos from the big splash.  The Olympic sized pool was crystal clear and we’d stay in the water until our fingertips shriveled like prunes.  Once we got older, my mom would drop us off in the morning, knowing we were safe amongst friends, and come back for us just before dinner time.  It was perfect suburban bliss.

As a city dweller, I’ve relied on rooftop hotel pools when the temperature rises into the 90’s and the humidity frizzes my hair.  These tiny, sky-high pools can be pricey but when you’ve got the flop sweats, money is no object.  On weekends, these hot spots get crowded quickly, mostly with post-college urban professionals who are more interested in the small plate menus and trendy pastel-colored martinis, than in taking a swim.  And depending where you manage to find an unoccupied lounge chair, your view could end up being nothing more than a cluster of flat rooftops.

This summer, I finally discovered poolside nirvana at the Mirabella pool in Boston’s Italian North End.  Situated right along the Harbor, with magnificent views of the Charlestown Shipyard, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the Zakim Bridge, I’ve marveled at the ferries and sailboats as they pass by.  I’ve found the perfect aquatic oasis at this historic neighborhood pool.  There’s a great sense of community and diversity, as young families gather, their toddlers padding around wearing neon colored water wings, giggling teenagers hang out with their BFF’s, my peers luxuriate without using their phones or laptops, and older, retired folks who’ve mastered the art of relaxation, smile or nod as I walk by.  I love this pool for its clean, refreshing water but I love it more for the nostalgic memories it has evoked in me.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

Wishing Every Day was the Fourth of July

It’s no secret that here in Boston we like to do it up big on the Fourth of July.  For decades, the Boston Pops has performed at the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade and, after the concert, a spectacular fireworks display rains down over the Charles River.  My neighbors and I may curse our lack of closet space 364 days of the year, but on the Fourth of July, we have the best place on earth to watch the fireworks: our roof deck.

Last week, as neighbors and friends gathered with beach chairs and blankets, food and drink, I was struck by what a diverse group had assembled on our roof deck for the day’s festivities.  One young mother was nursing her nine-week old baby, while the oldest, a vivacious lady in her seventies, sported an American flag motif scarf.  There were straight couples and gay couples.  And folks whose ancestry represented each of the seven continents.  There were Boston Brahmins, first-generation Americans, and at least one New Yorker.  All afternoon and into the evening, the sense of community prevailed as we waited in anticipation for the fireworks to start.

On the day we celebrated the red, white, and blue, there was no red state/blue state divide.  No political talk at all.  Do we all agree on everything?  No way.  But for one glorious, sparkling day we had come together with respect, pride, and patriotism.  All of us different, yet all the same – Americans.

 

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

New York to Boston and Back

 

The distance between my two homes is about 210 miles.  I’m a New Yorker who lives in Boston.

New York is the home my parents made for me.  All my peeps are there.  The Big Apple’s in my DNA – in the tone and cadence of my voice.  Regardless of where I go, my birth certificate and passport identify me as a native of the greatest city in the world.  Just like the song says, I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep…”   We talk fast, and we walk fast, like a type-A personality after a couple of cans of Red Bull.  Go people watching in Times Square and you’ll see what I mean.  My favorite piece of architecture is the Chrysler Building.  Favorite hotel, the Algonquin.  Favorite drink, the egg cream, of course.  Growing up in Queens made me a Mets fan.  For life.  Because I’m of the belief that when it comes to baseball, you stick with your home team, no matter what.

Boston is the home I made for myself.  The day I moved to the Bay State I heard the Standells’ song about the Charles River playing on the car radio, “…Well I love that dirty water, oh, Boston you’re my home, and I was hooked.  I fell in love with the swan boats in the Public Garden, the Citgo sign, and Filene’s Basement.  Despite my proximity to Fenway Park, I am not, and never will be, a member of Red Sox Nation.  I did, however, fall hard for the Bruins.  Apparently my home team rule doesn’t apply to hockey.  We’re called Beantown, The Hub, and more recently “Title Town.”  And the water?  Not so dirty.

My tale of two cities is a love story.  When I’m in New York, it feels like home.  Yet when I leave to go back to Boston, I’m on my way home.  And visa versa.  It may sound confusing, but not to me.  Home is where the heart is.

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Best of Boston

Snow Day Dreamin’

The snow days of my childhood were idyllic.  Just like Peter, the little boy in one of my favorite books, Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day, my brother and I, bundled up in our snowsuits, boots, and mittens, would go outside to play in the newly fallen snow and make snow angels.  We would do this over and over, until we were soaking wet and shivering.  My mom would get us dry and warmed up with hot soup and a freshly baked batch of chocolate chip cookies.  What could be more perfect?  The day off from school.

Last week’s Nor’easter brought 55-mile-an-hour winds that rattled my windows and changed the direction of the snow so it appeared to be falling horizontally.  But the City of Boston generally does a good job of snow removal.  And New Englanders don’t scare easily when it comes to extreme weather, until both the mayor and the governor tell everyone to stay home.  And just like that, children and grown-ups alike were given a gift – a most uncommon occurrence – a snow day.

But there are no real snow days anymore.  At least not the care-free, snow angel, chocolate chip cookie snow days I remember.  WiFi and laptops make it not only possible but mandatory for us to work remotely from home.  Maybe I was cozy and comfy in a pair of yoga pants, sweatshirt, and spa socks, as the barrage of emails came as fast and furious as the snow.  With my landline ringing and my cell phone humming, I didn’t even take a lunch break until 3 in the afternoon.  I was so focused on the work at hand, I didn’t realize the snow had let up.  As I watched from my living room window, neighbors shoveled out, walked their dogs, and played with their children.  I’d missed it all.  My snow day was over before it ever began.

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Best of Boston, Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Taking Tea

Last Sunday was the scene of a Boston Tea Party, of sorts.  Okay, it wasn’t exactly a party since there were only three of us.  And technically, we were southwest of Boston.  But there was tea involved.

With Christmas only a week away, we were exhausted, what with all the shopping, the cooking, the cards… and we needed to take a break.  Which meant taking tea.

fancy_thatWe met up in Walpole, Massachusetts, at a hidden gem called “Fancy That.” This unique tea room offers a wide variety of tea, delicious scones, tea sandwiches, and sweets, in an atmosphere that makes you want to trade in your tunic sweater, leggings, and boots for a costume straight out of Downton Abbey.  We truly felt as if we’d been transported to another time and place.

For two luxurious hours, the three of us harried gals sat sipping tea, (I chose a jasmine earl grey called “Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea”) nibbling on lady-like sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and delicate confections.  We chatted and laughed and recharged our batteries.

My usual remedy for being overbooked, overworked, and overwhelmed is to drink more coffee which only speeds my heart rate as I rush around trying to do just about everything faster.  Who knew I could find such serenity at the bottom of a tea cup?

The next time you’re feeling the pressure, take a few minutes, and take tea!

http://www.afternoontea.com

red poppy

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