Three Little Summits – Axes, Duck Pins, and Flowers

Axe throwing, duck pin bowling, and flower cutting. J says it’s been my personal triathlon of the last three weeks. It hardly rivals Everest, swimming the English Channel, and riding from the Pacific to the Atlantic (shout out to Rob Lea), but, hey, it’s mine. 

If I’ve been silent on this blog recently it’s because life has caught up with steps and stairs and summits. How about having graduated from high school 40 years ago? Or a visit to our almost 29 year old daughter in an old Victorian in Providence, Rhode Island, together with longtime boyfriend N and a VERY LARGE CAT who has just joined the family. I think cats can go by full names on the blog. It’s Milo. Name came from the cat shelter but it seems to fit. 
The 40th year reunion, of course, was part of a trip to the hometown, where the parents still live in the house I grew up in. The city, known to movie and baseball buffs as the home of field of dreams, has changed immeasurably from the 1970s when I was last a regular resident. I’m sure none of the rest of us have.  Frankly, most of my high school classmates – about half our class showed up, rather remarkable, looked pretty darn good. I did keep thinking a lot of that may have been the fact I grew up with a privileged group of kids. Wonder what it might have been like if we’d been working minimum wage jobs. 
Highlight of the event – axe throwing! This wasn’t the school sponsored activity. The lawyer in me says there could be liability concerns. It’s a more bombastic and less refined version of darts. Instead of a paltry little darts with a few tail feathers to stabilize its flight to a board filled with intricately designed segments with assigned point by point numbers – you’re given a hatchet, with a good sized handle that you simply arch back and hurl, two handed, to a plywood panel with three crudely drawn  concentric circles. I loved it. If you have a high stress job it’s an excellent release. 

That weekend was followed by Providence, Rhode Island, the new home of daughter A and  Boyfriend N. Rhode Island has all sorts of things to offer that can fit into a triathalon of weird weekend trips.

First up – two pounds of New Bedford scallops, for free. One of the advantages, apparently, to having connections in New Bedford, home of the scallop fishing industry. 
The seafood fiesta was followed by a Providence Day, loosely organized by N and friends. Doughnuts were followed by a trip to a not for profit that’s running a cutting garden out of a bombed out looking area of Providence. The flowers go loose to organizations that help people in times of stress on the theory that making arrangements is very therapeutic. They are then assembled into bouquets for those who need something to get through the day. The former factory on the site had something to do with knives, I think.
You can’t go to Providence without some time at Rhode Island School of Design. Let’s just say that their crafts fair was shoulders above your normal one.

From flowers the only next logical stop was duck pin bowling. Apparently big in Rhode Island (and I believe Maryland also), the alleys are all wood, the pins are small fat little objects, the balls are small and don’t have finger holes, and real human beings are at the end of each lane to reset the pins. I loved it. No possibility of your fingers getting ripped off if they got stuck in the bowling ball. Apparently the one we were at was the original bowling alley at a factory – management had installed it to give the workers something to do on their breaks.

We finished off with a trip down to the South Coast, a nice hike and lunch at a favorite restaurant, The Red Dory. Aside from the fact daughter A might have been bitten by a Lyme disease infected tick, a good time had by all. Plus, trees were in full autumnal garb, always a treat to us Florida folk. And that was topped off by a visit to a farmers market with its own flower cutting field.

So hardly a couple of weeks of real summits. But a good reminder that each little daily activity can have its own summit moment, if you just keep it in perspective.

A South Coast Weekend – Massachusetts

Indigenous People’s Day, as Columbus Day is known in Somerville, Mass., has been a regular time for J and me to venture to Boston to see daughter A and boyfriend N. Lots of times we’ve combined it with a summit or two in the White Mountains, but this time made it more “swamp”-like with a weekend at the South Coast. Not to be confused with the many South Shores of multiple other states (including Massachusetts itself), the South Coast is an area of coastal farmland south of Boston. It’s got a complicated coastline, bordered by Buzzard’s Bay and Rhode Island, which makes orienting yourself quite difficult, and is the starting point for people taking the ferry to the much better known Cape.

We were fortunate that our Spirit flight to Boston was on time. Flying Spirit is always a gamble, as proved true on the way back when our flight was not just delayed but canceled! Following a nice evening in Cambridge, which included a brisk walk, dinner at Craigie’s On Main, and breakfast at a well known bakery, we took off for the South Coast, Dartmouth, Mass. to be precise.

N had put together an extensive itinerary, only a portion of which we completed, despite a valiant effort. First stop was lunch in Westport at Back Eddy. It’s a beautiful setting, right on the calm bay – blue skies and lots of boats. It’s also quite expensive and is frequented by lots of New England ladies.

Next stop was Gooseberry Island. I’m not sure if it’s an actual island or a peninsula, but it is a stunning area of uninhabited shoreline. A trail wends its way around the area; we were tempted to go bush whacking but didn’t for fear of getting stuck at some inaccessible point. The weather was superb. Lots of wildflowers and birds; seas of tall golden grasses.

Topped off our afternoon with beers at the Buzzards Bay Brewing Company. We’d been there once before, and it’s always a scene. There’s a farmers market, live music, a meadow packed with families — some of whose parents seemed to be quietly drinking themselves to oblivion while their kids ran around like banshees. I’ve always wanted to use the word “banshee.”

Our AirBnB was advertised as an “Artist’s Farmhouse”, located outside Dartmouth. It is owned by a rather well-known ceramicist, whose enormous, three chambered kiln occupies quite a bit of the back yard. His studio is next door. All the tiles in the house are handmade, as are all the dishes, and interesting collections of memorabilia from different places furnish the rooms. There’s also a fire pit, and an extremely large and friendly cat lives close by. And there was enough room for frisbee playing and for A to hone her new-found skill of juggling.

The Kiln

After dinner at Little Moss and breakfast at the Farm and Coast Market, both in Westport, we were fortified enough for our adventure to Newport, Rhode Island. We arrived just as a marathon was ending, but nonetheless were able to find a parking spot near the beginning of the famous Cliff Walk.

The Cliff Walk runs several miles along the shore – needless to say, along the top of the cliffs, past huge and ornate Gilded Age mansions. I was staggered by how many there were. Some occupied, some now museums. We stopped to tour The Breakers, which is the Vanderbilt mansion. The opulence is overwhelming.

The walk itself ranges from smooth paving to scrambles over some large areas of rock toward the end. Apparently there has been a fair amount of damage from various storms. As you near the end, the mansions took on a spookier feeling, and I could imagine an ancient widow sitting in her rocking chair, looking out the window at the ghosts of long passed guests.

We stopped at Red Dory (not sure where that name come from) for dinner on our way back. We arrived just as the sun was setting and were treated to a psychedelic light show of reds and pinks and oranges. It was a fitting end to a weekend filled with art and color and sea and shore. And almost made up for that canceled Spirit flight on the way back to Orlando.

Betwixt a Swamp and a Summit – New Bedford, Massachusetts 

 

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I was on a scallop boat. The young deckhand/engineer/jack of all trades was giving us a detailed explanation and guided tour of life on a scallop boat. Replete with information about the days where you can fish all you want outside restricted areas, the code of ethics that governs which of your competitors you can trust (think, the “codfather”), and what it feels like to be 20 hours out from shore with no cell connection and a questionable satellite phone. He hated, he said, to look at the red survival wetsuit that was laid out for display on the table in the dining area.

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This was all part of the Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford, Mass.  Ever since daughter A’s boyfriend N moved there I had been fascinated with the idea of this festival. And when a work obligation was rescheduled – and $100 roundtip tickets were available, fate conspired to make New Bedford next in the adventure roster.

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It’s barely three hours from Orlando to Providence RI via JetBlue. And from there, it’s a quick 30 minute jaunt to New Bedford. So as not to defeat the purpose of our remarkably cheap plane tickets, we also rejected the expensive and not very interesting hotels, opting instead for a true Airbnb. Sylvia, our landlady, lives in half of a lovely, 1857 house. Her son, a Unitarian minister, lives in the other half. She couldn’t have been more gracious, the room was lovely, and despite a shared bathroom not for a moment did I feel we didn’t have a private space. $59 per night. This is the real Airbnb – a genuine bed ‘n breakfast.

Friday night was Portuguese food.  Turns out you should never have just one but at least two carbs. Rice and French fries. South Beach cuisine this wasn’t. The “stuffies”, stuffed quahog clams, added a bread course to the other carbs. The famed New Bedford scallops lived up to their name – and believe it or not, I had grilled quail.

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We had more Portuguese food for breakfast, and topped it off with a visit to the Whaling Museum. The Working Waterfront festival followed. It was largely a local event – I haven’t even mentioned the booths advertising ball bearings or the cooking demonstrations. After, we took a jaunt to and a hike on the Audubon Allens Pond Park. Boggy on the inland side, wildflowers in between, and a classic New England coast. A and N wanted to make sure I explained this was the South Coast of Massachusetts- not to be confused with the Cape or points north. A local brewery visit followed, topped off by another classic New Bedford seafood dinner and a ritzy cocktail bar.

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In between dinner and drinks we made our way to a local fort. It was completely fogged over. But of all things a Revolutionary War historical reenactment was going on. It felt like we’d wandered into a wannabe Twilight Zone episode.

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Sunday involved more breakfast – this time at a Cape Verde restaurant, Izzy’s. New Bedford has a diverse immigrant population and many people from Cape Verde  – in Florida, we think of Cape Verde as where the hurricanes come from. A faculty basketball game for N and J at N’s school was next up, and the meantime A and I ventured off to explore Providence. The males in our party eventually met us there, and we did some further exploration before ending up in the Italian area at a really excellent restaurant whose name escapes me.

A highlight was the outdoor Sinatra concert we wandered into.

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It was only a couple of quick hours back to Orlando. And then road construction meant it took half that time again to go the brief ten miles back to our house, for a midnight arrival. This was a totally unplanned and spur of the moment trip. I’d do it again tomorrow.

Cambridge, Mass. – 30 Years Later

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We have just completed the daughter circuit. It’s a little different than the Annapurna circuit (not that I’ve ever done that) but certainly has its own special highs. Still escaping the trigger points that exist everywhere at our house and remind us of Malcolm, our recently deceased Westie, husband J and I took off for the second weekend in a row early Friday morning to venture off to Cambridge, MA.  We were in New Orleans the prior week with daughter S, so we’ve managed to cover the Gulf and the North Atlantic within a week of each other.

I say Cambridge intentionally, as we barely set foot in Boston. The ostensible reason for the trip was my 30th year law school reunion. This reunion had special significance for me – five years ago we were preparing to climb Kilimanjaro in July 2011. That was the trip that – no exaggeration – changed our lives. As I reflect back – life since then? There’s been a lot more than work. Besides Kili, there’s Mt Elbrus, the Grand Canyon, Machu Picchu, Cotopaxi, Illiniza Norte, Mt Hood, Orizaba… The list continues.

Leaving such reflections in the wafting jet trails of our 8 am flight, now over an hour delayed, we arrived in Boston about noon and made our way to a trendy lunch spot near Central Square, close to one of daughter A’s two not for profit jobs. Following the obligatory sandwich and salad, we left luggage with A and did our first urban hike from Central Square to the law school so I could register. To say the place has changed is an understatement. Wyeth Hall, the ancient dorm where I spent my first year in 83/84 is no longer, replaced by a luxurious student center and administrative building. The parking garage I remembered is gone, with a below ground parking deck now serving that function. And the old student center, the Hark, has a fancy name, and the smell of a keg of beer gone bad that pervaded the pub vanished.

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We’d decided that Friday was family night and Saturday would be devoted to more official matters. So after registering we walked back to Central Square, retrieved our luggage and went to pick up A via Uber at her second NFP job – managing the Cambridge Winter Farmers Market. Yes, my daughter is a market manager!

Since when one is with millennials one does as millennials – hence, the Uber took us to our AirBnb. A small studio, it was fine, but the last guests must have stolen the duvet because two sheets were definitely not enough covers for a Floridian couple. There was a brief moment of panic when I realized I didn’t know the unit number for the studio, but at least no one noticed us trying the key in various and sundry apartments.

From there it was time to meet boyfriend N’s parents, K and S (see The Real Mysteries of Puzzle Mountain, Maine), A and N for a free concert sponsored by the Harvard music department. Billed as Creative music, it was several steps beyond jazz improvisation. We saw improvisational pianist Craig Taborn perform “Avenging Angel: Improvisations for Solo Piano”…and I have never seen anyone’s hands move so fast and precisely over a piano keyboard – almost as if he was chiseling glass. But there was one moment when daughter – at a particularly discordant part – silently pointed out to me that the map of the building in the program included an area designated as “area of refuge.” I still have a sore spot from biting my lip so as not to laugh out loud in the awfully serious concert hall in which we found ourselves.

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Following our foray into the world of musical virtuosity, dinner was at Shepard – where I found rabbit on the menu for the third time in a week. So much for my having recently predicted the demise of Thumper on menus.

After a chilly night at our AirBnB, Saturday morning was dedicated to the Cambridge Winter Farmers Market. It was “Get Growing” day and daughter A was in her prime keeping vendors that ranged from a duck egg purveyor to a seller of homemade marshmallows to a manufacturer of rain barrels all in order. And who knew about kombucha. A’s housemates had set up their own booth to give away samples of the fermented tea with a reputation for healing properties. Floating in it is a SCOBY – a “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” I kid you not. Supposedly its low alcohol content is what set off Lindsay Lohan’s anti alcohol bracelet.

Still to come….drinking fine champagne in the student center in the middle of the afternoon, some great speakers, an art museum, and that classic of Cambridge nightlife – bowling the Hong Kong.  You can only imagine. Next post.

All Roads Lead to Market Basket – Adventures in Somerville, Mass.

St. Patrick's, NYC
St. Patrick’s, NYC

When an opportunity presents, take it – and that is how I found myself on a five day excursion to New York City and Somerville, Mass. this past week. Although my fare consisted of having to attend  a two day legal seminar, I got to catch up with old friends and visit daughter A and the boyfriend N and enjoy perfect spring weather in Boston.

Before I return to the theme of “all roads lead to” (see All Roads Lead to Fludir – adventures in Iceland), I must spend a few minutes mentioning the mountains of Manhattan. They aren’t products of geology – the City is remarkably flat – but they certainly are metaphorical. Everywhere you turn people are striving toward their own personal summits, whether professional or artistic or simply individualistic. And against a backdrop of skyscrapers looming over city canyons like sharp mountain peaks over a valley. It can all be a bit exhausting.

I last lived in NYC from 1986 to 1989 and each time I visit I still experience the disconnect between the city then and the city now.  This time it was men wearing suits with open collared shirts. People scurrying down the sidewalk, cigarettes in hand – probably a side effect of the fact smoking is permitted practically nowhere. The Freedom Tower, gleaming over the city in the spot I still expect to see the Twin Towers. And some remarkably ugly multi story apartment buildings poking up out of midtown – that my college roommate, a long term resident of the area near the United Nations, described as a giant middle finger to the City. And I am convinced there were not as many Duane Reades back then –  there now seems to be one on every corner – and they sell food and beer.

View from the Acela Express - on the way to Boston
View from the Acela Express – on the way to Boston

On Friday I caught the Acela Express, having arrived at Penn Station way earlier than necessary, and spent a very comfortable 3 hours traveling to Boston’s South Station. It was a great way to travel – free wifi and had the woman next to me not been so determined to close the curtain, a beautiful view for much of the way.

Boston was spectacular. I managed to run 4 miles Saturday morning, The trees were in full blossom, white and pink bridal bouquets cascading to the ground, silhouetted by the very pale green of new leaves of other trees playing attendants to their more glamorous sisters. I got to stay on the very comfortable futon of the 20 somethings’ level of a Somerville triple decker. One of our projects was buying planters and flowers and herbs to turn their back porch into something worthy of daughter A’s Florida heritage. And a shout out to the housemates for creating such a nice living space.

Somerville - spring blossoms on steroids
Somerville – spring blossoms on steroids

Boston – or Somerville – highlights included multiple trips to the Market Basket – the iconic Somerville family owned and inexpensive grocery store with a very convenient parking lot. Open Studios Somerville was also fun – over 400 artists open their homes and studios to the general public – especially the house of the older couple filled with dioramas (in case you didn’t know what to do with any small scale  model of anything that you ever saw), the quilling artist (a way to use every scrap of colored paper you wish you’d never thrown away and clearly to become daughter A’s new hobby), and interesting paintings of the backs of industrial buildings in Somerville.  The day was topped off by a vegetarian Indian meal at Dosa ‘n Curry (dosa the size of the table) and listening to Mike Stern, former guitarist for the unlikely combination of Miles Davis and Blood, Sweat and Tears, at the Regatta Bar.

Plus, I got upgraded on the flight back to Florida. Some summits are hard – but some are pretty easy. Have a good week.