Showing posts with label Boston. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boston. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Comings and Goings



The last weekend of July we drove up to Boston to see our son, Chris. The plan was to check into the Downtown Doubletree, leave our car, and eventually meet up with Chris at his new apartment in the gentrified Seaport district. We used my new Uber account there for the first time. Had we known how easy and inexpensive it would be we could've stayed further outside the center of the city. After having lunch with him we enjoyed a long walk around the Rowes Wharf, only steps from his home, with a beautiful view of tall ships and small fleets of pleasure boats and pedestrian bridges overflowing with visitors.  Chris’ new apartment is in a completely redesigned building from 1899, his huge window facing directly into the Federal Reserve building with incredible views of downtown Boston, a professional building in every way.  This makes his life much easier, being able to walk to work as a data systems supervisor for an investment firm, a job he loves (how many people can say that nowadays?).  We capped off the visit with a great dinner at Smith and Wollensky.


The next morning we drove to Amherst to visit our friends Art and Sydelle who are renting a house near their daughter and her family. After meeting them for lunch at Atkins Farms, they took us to the Yiddish Book Center which houses the largest collection of Yiddish books in North America on the campus of Hampshire College.   

It was one man’s remarkable vision to preserve over one million of these treasured books.  It was truly amazing to see this literature being reclaimed and now digitized by a team of volunteers.  I had no idea that there was such an extensive trove of Yiddish literature.  When we departed from our friends, Ann and I decided to revisit The Emily Dickinson Museum, one of my favorite places in Amherst and once again signed up for their 60 minutes tour.  Since we were last there some of the rooms have been further restored, particularly Emily’s bedroom where she spent her days writing in a bright corner overlooking much of downtown Amherst.

Before the tour I had some fun reciting some of the poems I know by heart in unison with one of the docents.  I also chatted with a Chinese woman who had breathlessly arrived, fearing she was late for the last tour of the day, having driven three hours with her husband and child.  She was no stranger to Emily Dickinson’s poems, having translating many into Chinese for publication there.  We chatted about the similarities between Dickinson’s and Chinese poetry, which on their surfaces boast simplicity, with deep, meaningful undercurrents.

We returned to our hotel to freshen up for dinner with Art and Sydelle, their daughter Maddy, and her young and precocious son, Eli.  Unfortunately there was a massive thunderstorm on the way and the restaurant where we were to meet for dinner was closed that night.  Serendipitously, we ended up meeting everyone at a wonderful Chinese restaurant where we ate family style, happily sharing several delicious platters of food!

Bright and early the following day, we were on our way to The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown situated on a 140 acre campus, surrounded by the Taconic, Green Mountain and Berkshire ranges.  This was our first visit and we were very interested in seeing the new very modern entrance addition and 1 acre reflecting pool set amid expansive lawns.   

But in truth we made this special trip because they have just installed the first ever exhibit on “ Van Gogh and Nature”, using works on loan from some of the most noted van Gogh Collections in the world.  These paintings were primarily from the last 10 years of his life and were showcased in five rooms in the new wing of the Museum. 

Getting there proved more difficult than we could have imagined. It was all back roads to Williamstown from Amherst, roads I normally love to travel, but the bitter winter had left its mark on New England.  It seems every other turn was blocked with detours because of roadwork and at one point we were having difficulty getting there.  So we arrived about an hour later than we had hoped but luckily got one of the last parking spaces within walking distance to the museum.  The entrance reminds me of the monolith from the film 2001 – a granite enigma – trying to figure out how to get in!

Then there was the permanent collection of priceless French Impressionists, artwork and sculptures.  As moving as the Van Gogh exhibit was, I liked the permanent collection as much, painters I personally relate to, particularly the powerful seascapes of Winslow Homer and the scenes of the American West by Frederick Remington.  Ann, predictably and understandably was enthralled by the French Impressionist paintings, the Renoir collection in the permanent collection in particular and lingered there.

Perhaps the high point for me, though, was the display of the grandest Steinway ever made, the Model D Pianoforte Steinway which was commissioned by financier Henry Marquand in 1885.

In between seeing the Van Gogh and the permanent collection, we paused for a wonderful lunch at one of the Clark Institute restaurants.  By mid afternoon we started to think about the long ride back to Norwalk, half the distance on local roads and again we had to zig and zag, making it a long and grueling four hour trip home.

Only two nights later we had tickets to the Westport Country Playhouse to see A R Gurney’ s Love and Money, a world premiere.

I’ve written about the Westport Country Playhouse before, a venerable landmark in Westport since the early 1930’s.  Just one look at some of the old billboards and memorabilia in the lobby evokes deep and fond memories. We’ve been going there for some 45 years now, and while it has changed, it has changed to stay the same, to present plays of meaning to the community.

For many years Paul Newman’s restaurant, The Changing Room, stood adjacent to the playhouse (both Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were active in the theater’s success).  Now Positano -- which had been near the beach -- moved into that space and Ann and I had dinner there before the show, an enjoyable dining experience.

What better place to premier A.R. Gurney’s Love and Money than the Westport Country Playhouse, near the center of the universe of the play’s subject, the enigma of the WASP?  Cheever had defined the very species and Gurney has now attempted to dramatize its fading years of glory.

Gurney has been heavily influenced by Cheever and in fact as a tribute to the great short story writer he created a dramatization of some of his stories some twenty years ago, A Cheever Evening, one that I read when I was working on my own dramatization of some Raymond Carver stories.

Gurney used more than a dozen Cheever short stories to create his vision of what Cheever might have composed himself if he were a dramatist.  I’ve never seen the play performed but maybe it will be revived on the heels of Gurney’s new play.  Cheever and Gurney are students of this privileged, melancholic, frequently inebriated class, one to which it is time to say goodbye.

Unfortunately the play is not primetime ready yet and although the cast includes the consummate actress Maureen Anderman, who not long ago we had seen at Dramaworks in A Delicate Balance, her presence is not enough to save what we thought was a very contrived plot intended to mark the passing of the WASP species. Unlike Cheever, whose characters mostly aspired to money or had the pretense of money, this is about real money and how it alters relationships.

Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman) feels tainted with loads of WASP money from her deceased husband.  Her two children had directly or indirectly been destroyed by their wealth and/or alcoholism, and she is determined to leave most of her money to charity.  Against the advice of her attorney, Harvey Abel (“ably” played by Joe Paulik), she has no intent to leave the money to her two "zombie" grandchildren and then, suddenly -- a young black man arrives on her doorstep claiming to be the child of her deceased daughter – and thus another grandchild has been added to the mix.  Let the drama and comedy begin! – or at least attempt to begin.   From there a number of non sequiturs that don’t seem to be organic to the plot are thrown at the audience, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and a number of zingers at the encroaching political oligarchy and foibles of modern day life. 

Cole Porter of course is emblematic of the WASP culture and a couple of his songs are suddenly introduced as a young Julliard student, Jessica Worth (Kahyun Kim), comes to inspect Cornelia’s player piano which is programmed to play only Porter, Jessica bursting into song.  The young black man, Walter Williams (played by Gabriel Brown) who is after his own fortune, claims he is nicknamed “Scott” because of his love of Fitzgerald (who ironically lived in Westport briefly with Zelda) and in particular his affection for The Great Gatsby.  

While Love and Money is billed as a world premiere production, it is a play in development, gearing up for an off-Broadway run at the Signature Theatre.  It needs work -- an organic fluidity that seems to be lacking and a more believable plot.

In the program notes Gurney says at the age of 84, I assumed this play would probably be my last.  As its various characters leave the stage at the end, I felt I was figuratively going with them.  But now that the excitement of an actual production is taking place, I am reminded of an adage from the Jewish culture, which is in many was replacing us: “Wasps go without saying goodbye.  Jews say goodbye and won’t leave.” So now, in my golden years, with perhaps another play or two already churning around in my head, I’ve decided to be Jewish.   Let us hope one of our great social-comedic playwrights has a few more plays up his sleeve, and improves the present work.  Perhaps he should reread his own A Cheever Evening?
 
To conclude our busy week, Ann’s niece and nephew Regina and Angelo visited with their growing children, Forest and Serena last weekend.  We haven’t seen them in a year and a half – what a difference time makes when kids are approaching their early teens.  Jonathan and Anna were here as well, for lunch and then a boat ride on a beautiful day.
 

 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

New York and Boston



It is challenging writing while on the boat.  There is limited broadband connection, and it is frequently lost, so frustration is a prevailing theme.  And while we’re here for such a short summer, other activities compete for time. 

Nonetheless, I don’t want to find an impossible chore when we return in the fall, so, as a placeholder, this is a relatively brief entry on the last week, for which I have about 150 photographs and I can only offer up a few, covering the huge canvas of, first, our day with our friends, Harry and Susan, at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, and then, two days later, our trip to Boston, to see our son Chris, and our friends Bruce and Bonnie in Sudbury MA.

Several years ago I edited a collection, New York to Boston: Travels in the 1840's, which incorporated parts of Charles Dickens' American Notes (1842) and D. Appleton & Co.'s The American Guide Book (1846).  I’ve been fascinated by the history of the two cities (and the rivalry when it comes to baseball).  Visiting Boston again, but this time as a tourist, really brought home the differences, the influences of the English, vs. the Dutch on NYC.

We ventured into New York for a day with Harry and Susan, lunch and dinner and in between, an exhausting tour of MOMA, not having been there for years and years.  Although it was a weekday, the throngs of people were overwhelming, not to mention the size of the museum as well.  It gave us a new appreciation of our local Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, much more negotiable.  But of course, nothing can compare with MOMA if you have the time and stamina. 

After the New Haven railroad delivered us about ½ hour late, we finally made it to the Fireside Restaurant at The Berkshire Place on E 52 Street (where we had the pleasure of staying when I was in NYC for overnight business meetings).  It was “restaurant week” in NYC so we had a wonderful fixed price three course luncheon.  From there, it was a short walk over to the MOMA.  The photos below are just a few of the highlights (for me).  I hope to have more complete coverage later in the year.


On the way back to Grand Central, we stopped at a fast food Hamburger Heaven for a light dinner.  NYC Hamburgers are the best and the ambiance of an old coffee shop allowed us all to linger and talk until it was time for us to catch our train and our friends to find their ferry back to Ft. Lee.

Two days later we drove to Boston, letting the GPS take us through the labyrinth roads of downtown, so evocative of London, to the venerable Parker House Hotel, which is an historical site onto itself.  Dickens stayed there and John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in a corner booth in the historic restaurant.  We saw the marble table on which none other than Hô Chí Minh rolled dough in the hotel’s bakery from 1911 – 1913. (Oh, the supreme ironies of life, that JFK had to deal with him some 50 years later as the North Vietnamese nationalist leader.)

One of the main reasons for our visit was to see our son, Chris, who had recently moved to Cambridge and showed us his office in the historic Old City Hall, built in 1865, just one year before his great-great grandfather established his photography business in New York City.  We had two dinners with him and as a fish fanatic, I requested only seafood restaurants.  We had outstanding meals, the first at Dolphin Seafood in Cambridge and the next night at Scollay Square Restaurant which was right near our hotel, both reasonably priced and serving great fish.

Boston is immersed in history, and in such a concentrated area within a short walking distance of our Hotel.  We tried to hit the highlights of the Freedom Trail, such as the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, Paul Revere’s home, and, Faneuil Hall.  We were lucky to have ventured out early on Sunday morning, before the mobs descended, to Quincy Market and then to Faneuil Hall, a public meeting place which is still used to this day, where we had a private tour given by one of the Park Rangers.  (In the men’s room there was a sign which read “As the first President of Boston’s Board of Health, Paul Revere supervised the city’s privy (outhouse) inspectors, who made sure residents properly emptied out their privies and didn’t let them overflow.”)

By Sunday afternoon the Hall became so crowded that we strolled down to the waterfront and sat with Chris, taking in the sights and sounds of Boston before our last dinner together.

Monday morning we drove to Sudbury to see my college friend, Bruce, and his wife, Bonnie.  I had last visited Bruce in his home half my lifetime ago, and was able to dig up a photo of that visit to juxtapose it to the present day.  I had remembered where the photo was taken, but not where we stood, and why that should matter, I have no idea – perhaps it was merely an exercise of Absurdism.  But here we are...
Then…

And now….

While we’ve changed physically (merely a little less hair), the years have not changed our outlook on life and the need to laugh at some of the same silly things we did as college students.  We four had a lovely lunch at, where else, Legal Sea Food in Framingham.

From there, it was back to the boat which we took out a couple of days later for a brief cruise on the Long Island Sound.  


Monday, April 22, 2013

Mentoring and Remembering



I didn't think I'd get around to writing anything for a while, but I can't let this go by.  There is a remarkably beautifully written piece by Philip Roth -- In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor -- in yesterday's New York Times, which one can read on several levels.  It is a eulogy, a profound testament to the power of mentoring, insight into the fine line between literature and non-fiction, and a condemnation of "the scum in power" -- what one could call government at certain stages of American history.  Roth is referring to the McCarthy era when his former high school teacher, mentor and friend, Dr. Bob Lowenstein was "mauled in Congress’s anti-Communist crusade of the 1940s and 1950s."

The main character in Roth's I Married a Communist was shaped by his friend and Roth says "the book is, at bottom, education, tutelage, mentorship, in particular the education of an eager, earnest and impressionable adolescent in how to become — as well as how not to become — a bold and honorable and effective man."  But it is also about that era when his friend and mentor was branded as "political deviant" and lost his job as a teacher for six years: "I refer now not to a boy’s but to an adult’s education: in loss, grief and, that inescapable component of living, betrayal. Bob had iron in him and he resisted the outrage of the injustice with extraordinary courage and bravery, but he was a man, and he felt it as a man, and so he suffered too."

Being a teacher, Bob was in the position of being a mentor to many.  I had had thoughts of going into teaching instead of publishing (actually, I had no thoughts about the latter, I just needed to work when I got out of college -- I think of myself as an "accidental publisher").
 
Good teachers are mentors by design and I have been lucky enough to have two during my impressionable high school and college years, and remarkably we are still in touch and continue to be part of my life, my high school economics and political science teacher, Roger Brickner, and my college English teacher Martin Tucker.

But I've been a mentor too in my career (and have been mentored by others in the publishing world) and although I rarely see them, I am lucky enough to have an email relationship with several former colleagues, some of whom I've known almost from the beginning.  The last entry made an oblique reference to one who contacted me after 44 years, Mary.  Well, hat tip to her for passing on this brilliant piece of satire by Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker, which sort of ties everything up regarding this entry -- a new shameful era in our political history, the Senate having the "the courage and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people."

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, he said that the people of Newtown, Connecticut "deserve a vote" on gun control, little did he imagine that a watered down version that focuses mainly on background checks would fail -- a shameful example of NRA's control of our politicians  We got our vote.  Hopefully, all will remember when those Senators are up for reelection.

And to the city of Boston, great sighs of relief to the refrains of Sweet Caroline.....

And when I hurt,
Hurtin' runs off my shoulders