Sunday, November 30, 2008

Never been to Dorchester?

Dorchester is the biggest neighborhood in Boston, both in area and population, but many Bostonians haven't been there. Those that do venture along the Red Line past Andrew Station get bitten by the Dorchester bug. Like a chigger, Dorchester gets under your skin. Like a tick, Dorchester, bloated on the nourishing blood of its citizens, spreads a contagion. It isn't Lyme Disease, it's Dot-itis.

There are a fair share of fair weather Dorchesterites. They disembark at Savin Hill in the summer months to spend an afternoon frolicking in the sun and on the sugar sand shores of Malibu Beach. October winnows out these migrations and November leaves only the dedicated. People who were born in Dorchester know its charm and transplants know it equally well. A North Ender, a Back Bayer, a Cantabrigian... they are few and far between in Peabody Square or Codman Square or Lower Mills after the first of December.

Some people live in Dorchester, and they are the luckiest of all Bostonians. Some people only come for a visit that is always too brief. The wind off Dorchester Bay in winter can seem bitter, but many people find it briskly refreshing. Dorchesterites deep in the throes of Dot-itis have a spring in their step and a glint in their eyes that prove they are among the committed. You can't keep a good neighborhood down and you can't get away from the Dot once you've been in it. It changes a person.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Buddha abides in Dorchester

Off Park Street in Field's Corner, behind the branch of the library, is a Buddhist temple with a spacious garden full of statuary that invites repose and reflection. The garden is dominated by a white marble statue of Kuan Yin, the boddhisatva of compassion, known in Vietnamese as Quan Am. There are marble lions guarding the gate and, on the garden's eastern edge, a statue of the Buddha in repose.

This pose symbolizes the Buddha on his deathbed about to enter Nirvana, that indescribable state of which we all partake if only we are aware enough to realize it. Paradise is as fleeting as it is eternal. The Buddha taught this so it is fitting that in this representation of him, the Enlightened One lays his head in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

The Buddha lies with his back to Dorchester Bay and his face turned toward the T station a few blocks away. He is wearing that inscrutible half smile that has baffled and intrigued many a Western non-mystic. You can find this satisfied look all over Dorchester. People wear it as naturally as they put on thier socks. Beatific faces dot Dorchester's stores and sidewalks and parks. If you look in a living room window at night, you will see calmly happy people going about thier domestic routines.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Field's Black Friday

Having spent yesterday being thankful for their surroundings, the good people of Dorchester began their holiday shopping season in earnest late this morning. The streets around Field's Corner were bustling with foot traffic that was hurlier and burlier than usual. I just returned on the Red Line and throngs still teem Dot Ave and connecting side streets.

Super Dollar Plus was busy. Family Dollar was busy. Stereo Electronics was busy and its better know rival, Radio Shack, was busy. The busiest place of all was that bottomless bargain emporium, 99-Cent State, a place that puts Ocean State Job Lot to shame with less square footage and only one outlet located along the teeming sidewalks of Dot Ave.

At around 1:45 this Black Friday afternoon, people were waiting to get in. The fire marshall was called in to check that the store hadn't exceeded it's licensed capacity. The tree in this photo is hiding some of what's on offer in this marvellous shop. The sign reads: Elegant Gift, Toys Parts Bicycle, Kitchenware, School Supplies. The unobstructed side (so you don't have to fetch your reading glasses) says: Hardware, Household, Stationary, Frames & More. Set your imagination loose while you conceive of what 'more' may be. You won't be disappointed after you step through the front door. No wonder this was the busiest store in Dorchester today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Feline infestation on Hendry Street

Hendry Street was in the news a few months ago as the foreclosure epicenter in Boston, Dorchester in particular. There are a number of boarded up three deckers on this short street running between Bowdoin and Clarkson off Meeting House Hill. Things are looking up, as amply documented by Boston's newspaper of record. It's not the most lively of streets, but it's not the most forlorn either.

We were passing through Meeting House Hill the other day and noticed an abundance of cats prowling the neighborhood. They were of all ages, all sizes, all breeds and in every condition of health, from sleek coats covering well-exercised muscles to mangy fleabags with rat-bitten ears. We paid twelve dollars to Melonia Tattenbaum to watch the corner of of Coleman Street, which bisects Hendry, for an hour and take a feline census. We provided a ruled notepad with the columns marked off with various characteristics she might observe.

Forty-seven individual cats darted through the intersection, some more than once but only three more than three times. According to the statistics the majority were mixed breed tabbies with shaggy coats and 71% had the frayed, notched ears one expects in street-fighting, territorial cats. We used the Hoffman scale of cat body mass index, eyeballed by Miss Tattenbaum after an introductory training session on the specifics, to gauge the relative caloric intake and nutritional status of the cats she observed. Based on her observations of the cats' thigh and neck muscle mass (which are admittedly unscientific and uncalibrated from her unobtrusive distance) the cats around Hendry Street seem to be subsisting on approximately 750 calories a day. She took photos on her cellular phone and examination of these led experts to conclude that the neighborhoods cats are consuming at minimum one high protein source per day (be it mouse or small rat) but the majority of their nutritional intake is provided by starchy foodstuffs. Street veterinarians familiar with feral feline populations extrapolate that this would be made up of pasta, bread, potato, or biscuit, probably taken from household trash left out overnight.

Most of the cats had a sheen to their fur easily captured by the low resolution of the cell phone's lens. Everyone involved in the census agreed that this would indicate a diet higher in fat content than a diet consisting of local rodent populations would allow. Is someone putting out saucers of milk in the Hendry Street neighborhood?

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to cross the street in Dorchester

Some people know how to do it. Other people don't. If you're a poseur, don't try to cross Dot Ave without following these simple rules.

First: Look your best. It doesn't matter what your personal style, whether you're a pinstripe man or a hip-hop artiste. Wear your threads like you mean it and carry yourself like a gentleman. Ladies, there's no need to tart yourselves up. Sensible plaid woolens this time of year are acceptable. In warmer months, demure is always better but a light summer frock will always carry the day. You can wear orthopedic shoes or stiletto heels. As long as you can walk straight, no one will think any the worse of you. It's not the hem line or the calf line that stops traffic, it's common courtesy.

Second: Look both ways before you cross. Stop, look, listen. It's been good advice since roads were invented, and you can find Latin inscriptions carved in the intersections at Pompei. Dorchester's intersections have an antiquated way of signalling the pedestrian right-of-way. If a traffic light displays both yellow and red at the same time, it means pedestrians can cross without worry. Beware though, most jurisdictions don't use this signal so some out-of-town drivers get impatient when they don't know what they are supposed to do. They will race into the crosswalk and when it is person vs. automobile, the person ends up in the emergency room.

Third: Be gracious and accomodating to other people using the roadway, no matter how they are utilizing it, be it by car, motorcycle, motor scooter, wheelchair or on foot. It is a public thoroughfare and every fellow citizen is entitled to cross the street to reach his or her destination. Forgive misunderstandings over who has the right of way. A little inconvience is better than agitating tempers and enabling even more gridlock.

Fourth and foremost, a summary of the rules of good street-crossing summarized into something more than their parts: Look good, feel good, be patient, be courteous, be understanding. You are in Dorchester, after all, able to enjoy all the sights and smells of a rich neighborhood unfolding its routine while you bear witness and lend your presence. There are hungry children all over Africa, and thier equally struggling parents, who would feel blessed to be able to cross Dot Ave on some mundane errand. Feel your good luck and thank Providence and Fortune that you are able to enjoy this little adventure. With that in mind, and due caution, you can cross the street without worries and keep Dorchester the smoothly running community it is.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The worst ad in Boston?

This is the corner of Dot Ave and Crescent Avenue on the side of a newly expanded building. It's been up a few months and every time I see it I shudder. It's a nice building with a courtyard garden open to Crescent Avenue and balconies for most of the units. I watched the contractors over the past year and they seemed to be doing quality work, as well as this layman can tell. It is a nice building and a nice addition to the corner.

It will be nice to have new people living in this nook of Dorchester, but if they are like this clown then the realtors will have some explaining to do. I have an extensive collection of neckties, and I'm happy to wear them, but I'm not as slap-happy as this chap seems to be. I'm not going to take umbrage at yuppifying the neighborhood. A little more disposable income washing around Dot Ave will be good for business. I am dismayed that this two-story poster has been erected in an area that is made up of old, working class Irish families, newcomers of Vietnamese descent, and students of all nationalities and backgrounds scraping by to pay thier tuition. I haven't met anyone yet who is studying to spring off to work dressed like this model of success. It chills my marrow to think what his soul-killing profession might be.

Overpaid cubicle drones have staked enough claims to Boston real estate. Dorchester has remained relatively free of the contagion. Is this the face of things to come? Is gentrification creeping southward by way of the Red Line's vector?

The DNA Lofts seem to be offering to change this stretch of Dot Ave's DNA. It is two or three blocks from the JFK/UMASS T station. You see three flags regularly displayed between Columbia Road and Savin Hill in this order of popularity: Vietnamese, American, Irish. You don't see a lot of guys like the one on this poster at Tom's Barber Shop or in Gene and Paul's Meats, or in the Bubble T Zone, or or the Ba-Le Bakery. Maybe we will soon if this advertising works.

This ad implies that schlubs and ubermenschen like this fop can remake whatever well knit landscape in which they land. I prefer to think this neighborhood has deeper, interconnected roots that cannot be pulled out as easily as a day trader knots his tie. This advertisement is like a raven landing on your windowsill, a portent of troublesome destiny brewing beyond your control. Don't let the smile fool you, You will be priced out of your apartment when these troops invade with enough critical mass to take control. It has happened before in Boston. Some people welcome it, some dread it. No one moves to Quincy happy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Neponset's best

There is truth in advertising, especially where people talk as straight and honestly as they do around Neponset Circle. Sometimes you can believe what you read (just scroll through these archives). Customers voted the Tedeschi Food Shop on Neponset Avenue the cleanest in Dorchester and that's something to brag about in Boston's tidiest neighborhood.

Dorchester is famous for its store clerks who break out the Brasso and apply more than a dollop of elbow grease. Dorchester has the highest mop consumption in the greater Boston metropolitan area. It's not in just the grocery stores either. From Mattapan to Columbia Point, the clothing outlets, the gas stations, the dollar stores, the Vietnamese gift shops, the bakeries and fish markets, the computer repair offices, the package stores, the tire vendors and mechanics, the used appliance retailers, the restaurants and bars, from the seediest to the most swanky, the jewelers, the antiques dealers, the second hand roses and the chic boutiques; they are all known far and wide as being spic and span.

Dorchester's streets are clean, its gardens are manicured and its stately homes are well maintained. Dorchester is spiffy and tended with an artist's eye toward perfection. Stray leaves don't blow willy-nilly down Dorchester's streets. They are intended to add a bit of autumnal charm. Come winter, roads are plowed and walks are shoveled with the aim of making everything look invitingly wintry. Summer is the season in which Dorchester shows off all its splendor but no matter what the time of year, you will be guaranteed the inside of any shop front will be clean and hygienic.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fresh turkey, expertly dressed

The Dorchester Market is more popularly known as Gene & Paul's Fresh Meats. Apparently, someone in the 1970's (Gene and Paul, perhaps?) thought the store's name needed an update and the 7-Up company was happy to subsidize the bill for a new sign. The offical name, Dorchester Market, is still prominently displayed on the Dot Ave side of the building, printed on corrugated vinyl and power stapled to the wall.

The building seems to have been built circa 1870, which was a boom time for Dorchester real estate. This is described in the wonderful book "Streetcar Suburbs," a detailed account of Boston's expansive development before the turn of the last century.

The market brags of being Dorchester's first butcher shop. It is your usual neighborhood grocery, with a small fresh produce section, a few cramped, but well-stocked, aisles of canned goods and prepared foods, and a small freezer section. What separates Dorchester Market from the rest is, as the neon sign hints, the butcher counter in the back overflowing with fresh cuts of meat. Men sporting blood-stained aprons are happy to take your order and happy to prepare
your meat as you desire.

The butchers are currently taking orders for dressed turkeys for the holidays. They are also taking orders for roast beefs, hams, lambs and ducks as well. Given forwarning, they may be able to locate a Christmas goose. 617-282-6609.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Dot Irish

Q: How many Dorchesterites can you fit in a bar room?
A: It depends on the length of the bar.

Dorchester is a neighborhood of bent elbows and loose lips. If there's a place for people to gather, they will do it in Dorchester. Build it and they will come, especially if there's beer on tap. Thirsts will be slaked and tongues will wag. Connections will be made and handshakes exchanged. By last call jobs will be divvied up, sub-contracted, and all that will be left is the work to be sewn up the next day. If there is something to be done, deciding how to do it was decided in a Dorchester bar.

Little things get done in offices. Insurance policies and leases get signed. Small money changes hands and small designs are completed at a desk that faces a plate glass window. Grand schemes are hatched on bar stools. Dorchester's bar stools are warm from a regular rotation of heated seats planted on thier padding. Talk circulates the way cigarette smoke used to before the Commonwealth imposed a smoking ban.

Dorchester isn't raucous but it is full of animated chatter. Dorchester breeds blarney and boasts delivered in a relaxed brogue. There is little to prove in Dorchester. The proof is in the blood pudding, in the bangers and mash. Like foamy beer, everything in Dorchester comes to a head.

I tested this premise tonight at Tom English's and the Harp & Bard on Dot Ave, and C.F. Donnovan's on Savin Hill Ave. I heard more words than two ears can hold. If the intentions come true, we will wake up to a shinier Boston come Friday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Portugese not required

Restaurant Laura is a Cape Verdean eatery that hasn't been covered by Boston's newspaper of record for a few years. Maybe it should be. It came to our attention recently and scouts were sent out to reconnoiter the prospect. Reports came back positive and affirmative that this is a hot spot worth checking out.

Word on the street is that Restaurant Laura offers live music more nights than not and that the food is good, the atmosphere is good and the music is superb. Last Saturday, we dispatched some agents on bivouac to Columbia Road between Upham's Corner and Everett Square, to number 688 Columbia Road, Dorchester, MA 02125 to be specific. They got their maps out and triangulated the location before they embarked on the mission. Unfortunately they had already had thier dinner so they weren't in the mood to eat again. This dispatch has a few holes in its information, but we expect it has enough to entice. What is an adventure without unconfirmed expectations awaiting proof?

Agents 11 and 76 report that Restaurant Laura occupies an expansive, nondesript, brickface storefront on Columbia Road. The location is clearly marked with gold embossed letters over the facade. Our agents didn't enter the premises but they did press thier noses against the plate glass windows. The interior is decorous and spotlessly clean: white table cloths and glasswear without lip prints. The staff seemed attentive and there weren't any frowns on the diners' faces. A woman was playing guitar and singing. The man perched on a stool next to her was playing a drum cradled in his lap. All faces were paying attention to the musicians and rocking to and fo or clapping as appropriate. The plates were piled high with food that looked delicious and everyone was eating with gusto while they listened to the music.

We are encouraged by this report and intend to visit Restaurant Laura very soon. You should too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pour the nog in your noggin!

Autumn has broken and the holiday season dawned. There's a chill in the air and whatever pumpkins are left on front stoops have been officially frosted. It is time to warm up around the fireplace or the space heater. Hello, holiday season! It's time for some artery-clogging consumption.

B&A Bargain Store is an unprepossessing though tidy grocery located at 1098 Dorchester Avenue a few blocks from the Savin Hill T station. Egg nog went on sale this weekend, available in 64 rich, glorious ounces prepared exclusively by the Hood Dairy Company according to their special, proprietary recipe that has been the delight and comfort of generations. If the label says Hood, its got to be good.

Since the words went up on this sign, this niche of Dorchester has been humming with the news about the fresh supply of eggnog that's rolled in. At 10:30 PM on Sunday, a gaggle of patrons at Tom English's Tavern a little north on Dot Ave were talking up the arrival of this holiday beverage. A middle aged man wearing a Bruins shirt and a Red Sox cap said, "I've get to get down there tomorrow. Then I'm going across the street to Best Liquors for a bottle of rum. Thank god it's winter!"

It's good cheer for all when the egg nog is flowing. People are happy the holiday season has officially arrived.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Spare Change Guy

He's an ugly guy with an ugly face. We don't follow him everywhere he goes but we suspect he brings up the rear in the human race. Despite that, he is a man and he seems to be an honorable one, even if he is often misunderstood.

No one goes to college to be a panhandler. It's not a profession any parent is proud their offspring chooses to pursue. Some people, by design and destiny, have no choice but to live off the indulgence of others. If you are in downtown Boston, you'll pass plenty of people shaking a styrofoam cup with a rattle of coins in its bottom. The Spare Change Guy isn't one of them. He keeps his earnings in his pocket and asks outright for a handout.

He has a voice that can scratch concrete. He travels Boston Common or the Public Garden or Park Street Station scrounging for a little pocket money. His voice is both whining and grating when he calls out to all who can hear, "Can anybody spare some change?" He isn't clean and he doesn't look like a worthwhile cause. He's no matinee idol with a smooth pitch. He doesn't look like a good investment. He is often openly mocked and taunted but that doesn't stop him. With a voice that makes babies cry, he belts out, "Can anybody spare some change?" to whatever crowd he happens on.

Tough work if you can get it. Even tougher if you can be successful. The Spare Change Guy gets by, whatever that means. He is downtown haunting public places and T stations every day, surviving on whatever handouts he collects. They say the meek will inherit the Earth. I shudder to think of the Spare Change Guy replacing Mayor Mennino but there is a place for him in my city. Most of Boston's streets are pretty but all of them can be pretty mean.

I wasn't born as ugly as some people, nor as disadvantaged. I do what I can to be comfortable, relying on the gifts God gave me to maximize returns. Doesn't everyone? Am I any better than this man? In the end, we are both part of this moment in Boston. In the end we will both be food for the worms and fodder for Heaven.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That's very Dorchester

When people say, "Dorchester," they are referring to a part of Boston that is big, burly, and robust. They are talking about one of the muscles that pumps life into this big-hearted city. People from Dorchester wear their allegiance on their sleeves. Once bitten by the Dorchester bug, there's no going back to where you came from originally.

When old Irishmen snore in the wee, morning hours on the top floor of thier Adams Street three-decker, their breath is exhaled in three syllables: Doooor-ches-terrrrr. It is like the rumble of paving stones and the last century's newspapers in a galvanized bucket. The breeze off Dorchester Bay refreshes and invigorates. This is why most people who live above the ground floor keep thier windows open at night.

A story in the Boston Herald dated November 13, 1908 describes a fishwife who worked a stall in Haymarket. At day's end the fishwife would give her unsold clams and mussels and scuppies to the poor. As the reporter remarked, "That's very Dorchester of her." After packing up her wares, she took the horse-drawn omnibus home to Upham's Corner.

Crime in Dorchester makes the headlines but not all the unreported, little niceties that are exchanged every day in the neighborhood's little villages. We won't argue with schooled editors who know how to sell newspapers. We will report, however, that Dorchester is better than it is portrayed. There are worse, worse places in which to lay your head every evening. If you are thinking about making a move to someplace affordable, think about Dorchester. You won't be disappointed and you can sleep with the windows open.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Those Wonderful Codman Women

Somebody should make a pin-up calender of the women of Codman Square. They come in all shapes and sizes, in every shade of skin color, of every personality and every aspect of charm. If any part of Boston can be judged by the character of the women on the street, Codman Square would be Destination A-Number-One, Double-Plus-Plus for bachelors looking to settle down.

The women of Codman Square (don't call them girls) are a remarkable breed. They stand straight and show off thier figures to best advantage. Therir conversation is as erudite as it is home grown; it is book smart and street savvy. When a Codman woman smiles, the sun shines brightly over the steeple of Dorchester's Second Meeting House.

These are Dorchester women, the best kind, no matter where their parents or grandparents came from. That old Dot magic gets assimilated pretty quickly. Maybe it's in the water, maybe it's in the air. Whatever it is, Codman Square is the heart of the Dot and the women who walk it overflow with love and good humor. It can't be easy being a Codman kind of woman but these women wear their grace good-naturedly.

From infant to great-grandmother, a Codman woman has an aura. It is self-confident and indomitable. Treat her right and a Codman woman will be a lady. Disrespect her and she will still be a lady, but this one will put you in your place. Foreign tourists looking for a quick pick-up be warned, Codman Square isn't a gathering place for floozies or tarts. There are other parts of Boston for that. Codman Square is where naive girls become seasoned women and they are all the more attractive for that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mothers' Rest

Is there any more poetically named park in all of Boston than Mothers' Rest? Located on Washington Street just north of Codman Square, a wrought iron archway frames the park's entrance with these promising words: "Mothers' Rest." How many mothers have parked their strollers a few moments while resting their calves and taking in the refreshing view?

No matter how tall the trees get, the view remains unobstructed. Dorchester Bay stretches out to the far horizon where ships disappear. The Corita gas tank displays its rainbow, the wind turbine on Freeport Street revolves at its regular, relaxed rhythm, the neighborhoods of Neponset Circle, Field's Corner and Savin Hill stretch out in all their tangled, peaceful jumble. Everything is quiet on top of the hill at Mothers' Rest.

There are benches, tables, a jungle gym, monkey bars, a slide, a few swings. There is everything a mother and tyke could want to pause on the trek homeways or store-ways to reinvigorate themselves for the march in either direction. It is one of those little niceties that make Dorchester so livable.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

That fresh feeling

The farmers' market at Field's Corner stopped operating last week. No more fresh vegetables are for sale in the parking lot on the corner of Dot Ave and Park Street. Not to worry, spring is fast approaching. This doesn't mean there aren't fresh vegetables to be found in Dorchester. Everything is fresh in Dorchester, even the canned goods.

The farmers' market is a popular, warmer-month staple of Dorchester produce shopping but there is still Lambert's on Morrisey Boulevard. There is also the Stop & Shop down the road on Morrisey, the Stop & Shop at South Bay Center, the Shaw's Supermarket at Harbor Point, and the innumerable little grocery stores that offer seasonal fruits and vegetables imported from the depots in Newmarket and trucked across Boston to points-of-purchase. The Field's Corner farmers' market is nice because it is close to the Field's Corner T station and it is nice to bump shoulders with your fellow citizens while you dicker over the price of sweet potatoes and lettuce.

Few people where I live shop the big supermarket chains. There are plenty of smaller grocers that are still big enough to compete with the multi-state corporations. On Dot Ave, most of them have managers of Asian descent, mostly Vietnamese, but they offer the gamut of fresh food off vine or tree or out of the ground. Visiting these establishments can be a culinary eye-opener. There are many old, Irish household kitchens on Savin Hill and Pope's Hill that regularly use Thai chilies and bok choy as regular ingredients for their meals. If a city is a melting pot, Dorchester's stew pots certainly provide the proof. New dishes are being cooked up every day.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Taking the girl out of Dorchester

We listened to the Chancellor of UMASS Dartmouth speak last night, Dr. Jean F. MacCormack, a product of Dorchester's hurly-burly, always-simmering democracy. She is referred to informally as the Dean of the UMASS Chancellors because she is the longest serving uinversity head in the state university system. She wore her Dorchester roots proudly last night. Why wouldn't she? How couldn't she?

She said strangers know she grew up in the Dot. A stanger told her, "You're down-to-earth, you're fiesty, and you don't give up." If those attributes don't summarize Dorchester, none do. I haven't lived in Dorchester a long while, but I've absorbed those values by osmosis and they have become woven around my bones and in my guts.

With both feet planted assuradely on the pavement, with fire in my belly, and with determination, I strut out my front door to meet each new day head-on, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand, man-against-world. Let the best man win. Show me a Dorchesterite who doesn't do the same. I'll prove you a fraud if you have a bad word to say about Dorchester. This part of Boston has a sterling reputation. Dorchester may get its share of bad press but libel doesn't stick to an honest community. Tarnish is easily polished off an excellent design.

Dorchester isn't the heart of Boston. The city's vibrant spirit spreads to all its furthest corners. The brains may be on Beacon Hill, but Boston's intuitive intelligence resides in the Dot. This isn't to say that Dorchesterites are dummies. Far from it. They deal with practice more than theory. Dorchester is the spinal column that props up the rest. It reacts intuitively, sympathetic and para-sympathetic, with a wisdom based on experience and hard knocks that don't cause unconciousness but sharpen the senses.

The people of Dorchester keep Boston humming and ticking and moving with precision and purpose. They propel this world-class city closer to a brighter tomorrow. The future, like the dawn, is bright and glorious in Dorchester. The sun rises over Dorchester Bay's horizon. It bathes the land and the roof tops with expectations of excellence. More often than not, those expectations overflow with savory grandeur. When working men and working women awaken, new days begin again over and over and over and over and over. Children go to school.

The three deckers that line Dorchester's streets are treasure bins containing the best gold any city would want to horde. It isn't a coin spent on frivolities. It is an investment sacked away to make sure the right people will be available to perform the right job when the time comes. Dorchester is robust. It percolates. Dorchester is the best part of Boston.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Lyric opera

We went to the dress rehearsal of "Les Contes d'Hoffman" last night and are still bedazzled. What a show. Opera is reality heightened through an orgiastic mingling of multiple stage arts to produce a spectacle that will move the mind along with the heart and the senses. Nietzsche and Wagner proposed that opera was the highest of all art forms, best able to appeal to all that is best and basest in human nature. We agree and the Tales of Hoffman confirms that thesis.

Who was that golden, allegoric figure playing the violin? It was none other than Alecia Batson, Boston's hardest working auditionee. Before the show, the audience was informed that the performers were not Broadway singers. There were no microphones. "Our singers are trained sing properly, to fill the theater." We were in the mezzanine and the lyrical notes reverberated like a chorus of professionals, which is good since they were. There is nothing amateurish about this production, from the performers, to the sets, to the costumes, to the lighting to the puppetry at play. This is spectacle. This is why opera was the dominant, most extravagant art form of its day.

No one left disappointed. The cast wrapped its onlookers around its hook and the evening was a magic carpet ride between surreal comedy and poignant tragedy. Color, lilting notes, contralto, basso profundo, and all in French though you didn't need to understand the words to know what was going on. Subtitles were projected on screens for those who wanted to know the poetry issuing from the mouths of the singers. Opera. There is nothing like it and at three hours, this show flew by with each scene trumping the one before.

My companion asked me how we would recognize Alecia Batson. I sang her one word, sotto voce: "Goldfinger." When we spotted our heroine, my companion remarked she was expected something more along the lines of a body-painted go-go dancer than a Quincy Market mummer. Though this show plumbs the depths of eroticism and the human psyche, it is appropriate for all ages.

Another review is here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Harp & Bard

People where I live go to one of three places to watch television in public and this is a night for that. Television binds our nation together and while we could watch it in the comfortable confines of our homes, enjoying a masturabatory, voyeuristic kind of pleasure, in Dorchester, in my part at least, people take to the pubs. C.F. Donnovan's is one choice. Tom English's is another. My companion and I are settling for the third option: The Harp and Bard on the corner of Savin Hill Avenue and Dot Ave.

The food is good, the help is efficient, the patrons are civil and there are more flat screen, high defintion, plasma television sets than a blind man can shake his red-tipped cane at. The Harp and Bard is what it is: a convenient watering hole where people can gather, speak thier minds and then go home or get on the bus. College kids from UMASS Boston frequent the joint and so do old, Irish emigrant denizens long-settled in this neck of Boston for a generation or three. Vietnamese neighbors pop in, have a pint, and join the conversation. Gentleman and gentle ladies from Upham's Corner wander down to add diatribes and observations. The Harp and Bard is a microcosmos of Bostonia, a melting pot, a polyglot nation in miniature of different values and different viewpoints pressed close together trying to reach a consensus.

Walt Whitman never visited Dorchester. If he did he would have felt at home at the Harp and Bard. Citizens make a city, and a nation, great.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Planning for the fallout

On the off chance that the McCain/Palin ticket carries Massachusetts, you may like to have a back-up residence in mind. Is there a state more blue than Massachusetts? This question refers to political leanings not mood. Everyone knows there will never be a happier commonwealth in the Union as long as the States are united.

So let's say you want to high tail out of the Hub of the Universe and rest your bones in San Francisco or Seattle or even, Heaven forbid, one of New York's more radical buroughs. Who do you call to haul your possessions? We have a recommendation.

Nick's Moving Company, located at 40 Joy Street (naturally) in Somerville will be as pleased as Punch to assist with all your moving needs. As the lettering on the side of the truck says, Nick's crews are "Cheap & Friendly." Voted the best of Boston's movers in 2001 and 2003, competition for the crown as the cheeriest movers in town has been tight since then. This has led the stevedores and teamsters at Nick's to redouble thier efforts to don the mantle once again. If you feel the need to relocate after Election Day, give Nick's a look-see. You won't be disappointed and you'll probably be moved to cast another vote, this one for Nick's as the Best of Boston 2009.

This is an unpaid and unsoliciated advertisement without any contact between the proprietors of Whalehead Enterprises and the management of Nick's Moving Company. We are only relaying the word on the street. For what it is worth, we also fortell a Democratic victory in Massachusetts if informal, undocumented rumors can be trusted.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Peppermint Squid

The old Vespa that forever needs repair is officially the Peppermint Squad's mascot. It is the club bike that everyone owns communally, putting in hours filing the gears and greasing the intricately interlocking parts. The time spent pounding dents out of the leg shield and sanding Bond-o would be worth a lot of overtime if squad members ever unionized. It is a labor of love though.

The Peppermint Squad picked up a new mascot this weekend: The Peppermint Squid. Widowmaker and Little Buddy were fishing for crappie and monkfish as the tide was coming in under the Red Line bridge between Boston and Quincy. The shore around the bridge is officially off limits to anything but trains. They didn't bring their scooters onto the tracks, but as well connected Dorchester denizens, they knew where to gain access to this coveted, MBTA-owned and operated fishing hole. The Peppermint Squad works closely with Carmen's Union 586, having helped on more than one occasion towing stuck trains over snowbound tracks. In thanks, they have been granted special passports that allow them to navigate into territory otherwise forbidden.

Widowmaker and Little Buddy were using 3/4 McPherson jigs, casting them out and reeling them in without much luck until Little Buddy shouted out, "I've got a big one!"

He did. He reeled in a three-inch long squid the color of weak coffee milk with a red stripe down each side of its body. "What am I going to do with this?" Little Buddy asked. Widowmaker said, "I think he's kind of cute. Let's take him back to headquarters."

They filled up their bucket with brackish Neponset River water and took the Peppermint Squid to Codman Square where they've fitted out an aquarium for their new friend. No one knew what squids eat but Flora went to the McDonald's on Washington Street and brought back a filet-o'-fish sandwich. This seemed to suit the squid just fine and he is adopting to his new environment rather well. Cherrypicker says she thinks she has seen the Peppermint Squid smiling at her.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A conundrum of neighborhood names

We all know why the Back Bay is called a bay. It was once a shallow, fetid, stinking backwater of a bay filled with sewage and carcasses before it was filled in with soil to form an arc parrallell to Cambridge to become the eastern picturesque shore of the majestic Charles River. Pricey land, perhaps, but solid land just the same. All the expense that went into filling the bay demanded a solid investment. It remains so to this day, thus far. What of other Boston neighborhood names?

Why is East Boston the northernmost part of the city? Why is South Boston the part that stetches most to the east into Boston Harbor while all of Dorchester spreads below it on a map? Why is West Roxbury at the city's southern edge? Why can't anyone tell Allston from Brighton so much so that the two are always referred to together as Allston/Brighton?

Why is Lower Roxbury right next to North Dorchester though both neighorhoods share a common border and latitude? Why do we travel uphill from the Orange Line to get to Jamaica Plain? Why does the Mission Hill branch of the Boston Public Library have 'Parker Hill Library' carved over its doors? The Mission Church was built before the library and only a puddingstone's throw away.

How does a city known for its parochialism get away with naming neighborhoods, in Dorchester at least, complete with signs from the mayor welcoming travellers, Morton Street Village or Adams Street Village? Morton and Adams Streets are long. Am I to believe that no one ever had a better name for these nodes of commerce and community? Pull off I-93 in Dorchester and you will be greeted by a sign on Columbia Road. It says: "Welcome to Columbia/Savin Hill." Can anyone think of a clunkier monniker? Yes. The Red Line T station on Columbia Road is called JFK/UMASS. There may not be graft involved in this but there is certainly some grafting.


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