Fisherman's Wharf

After visiting Lombard Street we walked down the hill to Fisherman's Wharf, a rather tacky waterfront area reminiscent if the streets surrounding Niagara Falls: lots of t-shirt & souvenir shops, wax museums, and bad food. But we did discover the World Famous Bushman, a homeless man that has been scaring passersby since 1980. He started out dressing up as a robot but found there were too many of those, so now crouches down behind some eucalyptus branches which he shakes at people as they past. He cajoles tips out of them afterward and is reported to have made $60k in a good year! That's him in the last shot.

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

Return to Writing

So. It's been a long time since I published a truly thoughtful post.

You see, I've become a victim of "snack culture," the modern phenomenon of consuming and transmitting short bursts of information - a Twitter post here, a Facebook update there - instead of composing longer-form, more thoughtful content here on my blog. I've been blogging (micro-blogging), but not writing.

It's not that I don't have the thoughts - I continue to gather thousands of bookmarks and downloads that would inform tons of posts - I just don't seem to make the time to write anymore.

I do, however, continue to consume long-form content. Reading beyond the Tweet, or beyond the headline, is incredibly important to me professionally, and incredibly rewarding to me personally. My Mom taught me to love books at a very young age ("If you have a book, you'll always have a friend") and it is my love of books that brought me back to the notion that I should return to writing. Here's how:

I recently finished reading The Paris Wife, Paula McLain's fantastic novel about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, and the time they spent together in Europe while he was writing The Sun Also Rises. It is romantic and tragic and I absolutely loved it. The mythic Hemingway, hanging out with pals Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound - the Lost Generation riding through Jazz Age Paris on a wave of absinthe and words. It makes you want to grab your Moleskine (traditional or modern) and sneak away to a cafe for the day.

About the same time, I had two friends publish books that are next on my reading list: Jane Roper's Eden Lake and Alethea Black's I Knew You'd Be Lovely. Both did readings at the fabulous Newtonville Books, which I was introduced to thanks to this authors series. What a fabulous independent bookstore - from the books themselves, to the events, and the oh-so-cool autograph wall (Jane and Alethea, plus Gary Schteyngart and Dave Eggers among others). Also new to the wall that night was Lynne Griffin, who shared a moving passage from her novel Sea Escape, based on actual love letters written from her late father to her mother (and also now on my reading list). All very inspiring.

And then I had a wonderful conversation with Alethea, a friend I hadn't seen in years. We talked about her writing, my travels, and our lives in general - in NYC and Boston, respectively. Such interesting stories exist in the day-to-day! Sometimes you don't realize it until you slow down and take time to reflect. Or write.

So I'm back at it. For now anyway. And while I plan to stick to blogging...who knows? Maybe one day you'll see my autograph on the wall at Newtonville Books :)



Phipps Street Burying Ground

Today, the Charlestown Preservation Society led a guided tour and clean up of the Phipps Street Burying Ground at the corner of Phipps and Lawrence Streets in Charlestown.  Begun in the 1630s, it is one of five 17th century burying grounds in Boston, and the oldest real estate in Charlestown (as the rest of the town burned to the ground during the Battle of Bunker Hill).


The cemetery's irregular layout was allegedly intended to correspond to a map of the town; until the mid-1800s, this area was actually waterfront property along the Charles River (see Peter Tufts' Plan of Charlestown Peninsula) but today is bordered by Bunker Hill Community College and Mishawum Park apartments.


Historian Carol Bratley explained that the stones are grouped in rectangular family plots, rather than neat rows. Many of them were carved by the Lamson family of stonecarvers, whose work is found all over New England.


She also explained the designs that prevailed in different centuries: graves of the 1600s featured death's heads - stylized skulls with wings and cross bones. Winged cherubs didn't appear until the 1700s, and then the willow (a classic symbol of mourning) and urn (where Imperial Romans stored the ashes of deceased) appeared in 1800s. Here are a couple of beautifully sculpted and remarkably preserved examples:


There are memorials to numerous historical figures in the cemetery, including John Harvard, who died in 1638 and left half his estate and entire 300-book library to a new college in Cambridge. Harvard's original grave marker has disappeared, but Harvard College erected a granide obelisk here in 1828 to commemmorate him.


And of course George Bunker and family, of the eponymous Bunker Hill (whose marker, sadly, has been vandalized by "Clyde's Crew").


But probably most interesting to me were the graves of Nathaniel Austin and family, Middlesex County Sheriff and owner of the stone house in which I now live:


There were grand groupings of headstones like those of the very large Frothingham family, and somber, multi-person plots like this one, which under all the children's names reads:

Our lives is ever on the wing

And death is ever nigh

The moment when our life begins

We all begin to die


There are only two markers for men of color here, tucked under a tree at the far edge of the grounds, which was customary for the time (as was denoting the color of their skin, right on the headstone):


Note the inscriptions in these close-ups of the two to the left of the tree, above:



While the city and the Preservation Society work hard to keep Phipps St. Burying Ground clean and preserved, past problems with loitering and vandalism have forced them to now keep the gates locked and only opened upon request.

See the full photo set on Flickr.


Gene Simmons and Other Star Sightings

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, La Concha Resort has hosted its share of celebrities. JLo and Marc Anthony (we just missed them!), Enrique Inglesias, and Zoe Saldana to name a few. So who did we see while staying there last week?

Kiss Members of the rock band, KISS. Remember them? Those face-painted, flamboyantly dressed, hard rocking guys who were all the rage in the late 70s?  I can still picture the band poster on my brother's bedroom wall.

Well, 30 years later, they are still at it. Currently on their Hottest Show on Earth tour, they performed at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico last Saturday night, and you guessed it - they stayed at La Concha Resort.

While we only glimpsed the full band once - sans costumes on their way through the lobby to get into a limousine before the big show, bassist Gene Simmons hung out at the lobby bar all weekend.

PR 024PR 032
PR 031 PR 060

Apparently, there were sightings of Gene's pal Danny Bonaduce as well, which makes me think they may have done some filming for the upcoming season of Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

Here's a shot of the KISS concert posters in San Juan:

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And I'm sure Gene would be thrilled to learn that he's been added to my Star Sightings Flickr set.

Party on.


Infinite Family

In a recent email from VolunteerMatch (a match-making service for volunteers and people who need their help), I learned of a remarkable organization called Infinite Family, which uses the Internet to connect adults and families with parentless children in southern Africa.

In the wake of the AIDS epidemic, thousands of African children are orphaned every year, leaving the ratio of children to adults in many areas at 12:1. Infinite Family has made it easy for people to become virtual mentors to these kids, using video conferencing, email, and a secure Internet platform to span the physical distance.

Infinite Family

The VolunteerMatch newsletter tells the store of the Benedict family from Pennsylvania, who discovered Infinite Family's Video Mentor program and now regularly connects with an orphaned teenager at a computer lab in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only does this youth get much-needed attention and guidance from the adult parents of the family, but she also enjoys camaraderie (and help with homework!) from the Benedict children. And they, of course, get the chance to learn about a very different culture and make a life-long friend.

What a fantastic way to use technology.

Think you want to be a virtual mentor? Check out the Infinite Family page on VolunteerMatch. Mentors must be 21+ years old, have a high-speed Internet connection, and be approved through an application process. Once approved, they undergo an online training program to help understand the culture, the technology, and the children.

To learn more, visit the Infinite Family website and Youtube channel, or follow them on Twitter.

Pawley's Island

Pawley's Island sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Waccamaw River in South Carolina. It is one of the oldest resort areas on the East Coast, and I had the good fortune to spend five sunny days there over Columbus Day weekend while attending a friend's wedding.

Unlike Myrtle Beach, its honky-tonk neighbor to the north, Pawley's prides itself on being quaint and "shabby chic." Less than 200 people live on the 3-mile stretch of land, but vacation homes abound. We stayed at this fabulous spot, with the ocean (complete with frolicking dolphins) out our back door:

Pawley's Island 002 
...and this picturesque view of the river (with lots of egrets and fishing literally jumping out of the water) out front:

Pawley's Island 011Gorgeous!

Highlights of the weekend included walking the expansive beach and taking in the wild life,Pawley's Island 052biking along the shore, shopping at the legendary Hammock Shops (yes, the hammock was created here 120 years ago) and antique shops of historic Georgetown,

Pawley's Island 029and dining on fabulous southern fare at Roz's Rice Mill Cafe (get the hot chicken salad on a croissant), Frank's Outback, and Hog Heaven BBQ.

But of course the real highlight of the trip was seeing our friends Anna & Jeremy tie the knot, and they did so at the beautiful Brookgreen Gardens and sculpture park (wish I could've explored more of this place).

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Here's the full photoset:

Join me at the Helping Hands Festivale

You're invited to an exciting evening of food, music, and art!

Helping Hands FestivaleIt's the Helping Hands Festivale, taking place on Saturday, November 6th at the WGBH Studios in Boston

Buy your tickets and join us for:

A portion of the proceeds will support the Monkey Helper Training and Placement Program at Helping Hands, a national nonprofit serving people with mobility-impairments by providing highly trained monkeys to assist with daily activities.

It's a wonderful organization, and the Festivale promises to be a great night.

Buy your tickets and/or sponsor the event on the Helping Hands web site, and please help us spread the word on Facebook.

I hope to see you there!


Helping Hands

Helpinghands I'm excited to announce that I've joined the board of Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and placing Capuchin monkeys as in-home service animals to provide daily assistance to people living with spinal cord injury or other mobility impairments.

Monkey The Helping Hands monkeys facilitate a range of tasks, like getting a drink of water, picking up a dropped or out-of-reach object, turning the pages of a book, or assisting with a telephone or computer. It is amazing to see how the monkeys assist their human companions. What's more, the emotional bond between monkey and human is equally strong for both parties.


Early in the organization's history, Capuchin monkeythey determined that Capuchin monkeys are especially well suited to be monkey helpers, since they are small in size (6 - 10 pounds) and need only positive reinforcement to help them learn tasks. Training is accomplished by rewarding the monkeys for doing activities that already come naturally to them. Helping Hands runs a Monkey College in Boston which trains the monkeys on how to become part of a human companion's life.

Monkey helper donationMonkey helpers are placed free of cost to the recipient; all costs are underwritten by donations from individuals, foundation grants, and corporate partnerships (93 cents of every dollar directly supports their program and services).  On average, it costs $38K to train, place and support each monkey helper paired with its recipient. Monkeys get lifetime medical care overseen and paid for by Helping Hands, including all necessary care for chronic illnesses and geriatric care, by a specially selected network of veterinary and human doctors.

As a service to the larger community, Helping Hands also conducts public education programs that teach young people how to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to spinal cord injury, and how community service can be a powerful way to help others.

There are numerous ways to support this wonderful organization, including volunteering, donation, fundraising, providing a foster home, or simply sporting a Helping Hands tee or joining us on Facebook


Manolo Blahnik

Yesterday I got an up-close glimpse of Manolo Blahnik, the Spanish fashion designer and creator of the eponymous line of shoes beloved by women all over the world.

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It was all part of a Hello Stiletto/Neiman Marcus trunk show where Blahnik devotees could sip champagne, view his latest collection, and wait in a painfully long line to meet the designer and have him autograph a pair of shoes (!). Buyers also receved a "My Man Manolo" organic shopping tote. 

Boston Fashion Week 012

With the kickoff of Boston Fashion Week, there are lots of stylish events happening around town. Hope to see you at some of them!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I quoted novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham in yesterday's post, and I'm going to do so again here, but relative to a different topic.

In his memoir The Summing Up, he explains the need for writers to "cut, cut, cut" their work:

Maughamsmoking"To do so now is more than ever necessary, for audiences are at once quicker-witted and more impatient than ever before in the history of theatre... Audiences in the past seem to have been willing to sit out scenes that were elaborately developed and to listen to speeches in which the characters fully explained themselves. It is very different now, and the difference has been occasioned, I suppose, by the advent of the cinema. Today, audiences... catch the gist of a scene in a few words and having caught it, their attention quickly wanders."

This was published in 1938. Isn't it amazing...he could be describing the shift from traditional broadcast and print media to the Web.