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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Rome of the Northeast

I was recently told that, like Rome, the city of Somerville contains seven hills, each with a name (in some cases several).

Central Hill
Mount Benedict or Plowed Hill
Cobble Hill
Prospect Hill or Mount Pisgah
Spring Hill
Winter Hill
Walnut Hill, Strawberry Hill or Clarendon Hill

I had heard of a few of them, as they serve as names for neighborhoods, but the fact of seven hills was news to me.

The comparisons to Rome probably end there, but it is impressive - seven hills seems like a lot for this not-very-large town. Looking into the topic a little further, I learned that good chunks of a few of the hills were removed for landfill, which might explain why I hadn't noticed all of them.

Seven hills. I like it, and I'm appropriating it. Thanks, City of Somerville!


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

High Tide/Low Tide

Last week in Maine we went to Popham Beach one afternoon, arriving just as the tide was going out. I've never been in a place where the water receded so quickly and dramatically. When we got there, the beach was still fairly narrow, but when we waded into to water it was already pulling fiercely at our ankles.

First it looked like this:

And swiftly the sand bars were bared so it looked like this:

And then the beach was completely revealed, so you could walk right out to what had recently been a small island without even getting your feet wet:

The water there was very cold and clear.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lobster Roll Diary

In addition to its blueberries, Maine is also known for its lobster rolls (in fact my Maine friend showed me a copy of a book about childhood summers in Maine, titled "Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie"), so on our visit there I was hoping I might get a chance to try one.

However, we had surprising trouble finding a reliable purveyor. On the way to the beach, we passed a small general store with a big "Lobster Rolls" sign tacked to the porch. Unfortunately, two additional signs were placed directly above it, stating with equal enthusiasm: "Bait" and "Sand Worms." Not appetizing. A hand-painted sign further along the road directed customers to the "Lobster Shed" up a dirt driveway and behind a run-down ranch style house. Also not our kind of place.

We finally settled on a fresh fish and produce market in the artsy little town of Hallowell, a shop where live lobsters frolicked reassuringly in a spa-sized tank of water behind the counter. The owner's son prepared the mayo and lobster mixture while we watched, and there were no sand worms or bait to be seen.

The verdict: perhaps a bit overly bready due to the enormous bun, but otherwise perfect. Excellent lobster-to-mayo ratio, good rich flavor, generous chunks of lobster.

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Berry Notes

Last weekend we went up to Maine to see some friends, and were served various dishes involving these exquisite blueberries:

You can see in comparison with the scale of the nearby pie crust (peach pie, from Petsi's Pies of Somerville, also very yummy) that these berries are unusually petite; they are wild blueberries, though wild blueberries bought at a co-op market, not collected personally by our hosts in the wild.

It is also worth noting that the container, while twice as large as the container of blueberries I recently bought at the Union Square farmer's market in Somerville, was the same price, four dollars.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Philosopher's Swim

I was amazed when I first learned you can go swimming at Walden Pond. I mean, really, why not, just because someone lived in a little shed and wrote books there, but after hearing about it all my life it seemed too historically significant to be open to the public for recreational purposes. You may have read E.B. White's funny essay talking (as I remember it) about the clash between modern-day Walden, with its beaches and changing rooms and ice cream wrappers, and the place on which Thoreau ruminated so famously. It's like that.

Anyway, we are very fond of it. It's not too far from Boston, about a 30 minute drive, and while the beaches do get crowded on a hot day, there's always plenty of room in the water. I like to choose a really good book to bring when we go there. It feels like that kind of place, where you want something excellent to read, like a wood-paneled reading room at a public library, but outdoors.

There are two main beaches along the shore of the pond. The one by the bathhouse has a lifeguard and a roped-off swimming area; this is the domain of the very little children. Farther along the path, to the right, is the more risque "unprotected swim" beach. (When I say "beach" I mean "stretch of gritty, hard-packed dirt with lots of stones that get in your shoes.") This is where we choose to lay our towels.

On this particular visit, we sat next to a group of a type that has already become familiar to us in the Boston area - the time-warp 40-something hippies. They wore batik tunics and loose lavendar linen trousers; one of them carried a tiny, tiny baby in a cloth sling against her stomach. Also in the group was a little girl named Miriam, around 3 years old, who wore an almost-transparent white leotard as her bathing suit (which became completely transparent once she got in the water).

This outing turned out to be in celebration of her half-birthday, and the adults made a big fuss about how "all her friends" were there in her honor, though we thought it was a tad pitiful that all her friends were over 40. Not much fun for little Miriam. She was a good sport though - she didn't seem in the least disappointed to be blowing out a candle stuck in the middle of a bowl of fruit salad, and was not puzzled when the grown-ups chose to sing "Happy Birthday" to the tune of "Jump Down Spin Around Pick a Bale of Cotton." I wonder if the hippies knew they were singing an old slave song. After that they sang it again, but in Hebrew.

If you want to escape the fruit salad crowd and you have a bit of luck, you may be able to claim one of the private stone-step landings that lead down into the water, scattered at points around the pond.

People paddle around next to the steps, or else drape clothes and towels across them to stake ownership while they launch out into the depths. Sometimes you'll see a lone person perched on them, dangling toes in the water, reading a book, or smoking a cigarette, or both.

The cabin that Thoreau lived in (and built) is no longer standing, but there's a replica across the road. It's quite small.

Inside are a writing desk, a chair, an iron stove, a bed with a stern gray-wool blanket.

The actual site of the cabin is about half-way around the pond from the bathhouse, near where the train now passes by. It's marked by a large heap of stones placed there in memorial by visitors over the years. The true footprint of the house was uncovered years after this tradition began; its outline and the location of Thoreau's hearth are marked out several yards away from the cairn.

Do these ducks give a damn who did or didn't use to live at Walden Pond?

I think not.


Dancing Horses

This do-it-yourself mural has become a sort of landmark for us on the way home, signaling the bend in the road when we're almost to our neighborhood.

I love the flying braids of the girl in the middle, and the serene "we love horses" expressions on the faces of all the riders. You can tell the artist was probably going through a Horse Phase at the time of this painting's creation.

I also like the choice of pastel palette for the composition, giving it a sort of magical beast effect. For this reason, we call this the Pegasus Corner, "Pegasus" said in an ecstatic way, with an exclamation point: "Pegasus!"

Around the corner on the same fence, another painting of a more somber subject, though no less charming:

Note Nicky's dazzled goggle eyes - he's as surprised as we are that he's sprouted wings and is floating up into the sky. Those other kitties crowded around the edges of the frame are Nicky's earthbound soul sisters and brothers (names noted in smaller letters beneath the Nicky banner), fondly joining in honoring the memory of Nicky, the cat who went to heaven.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

To Market

This morning a friend and I went to the Union Square farmer's market, which I'm told is new this year. It is fairly small, maybe ten stands or so (at least on this weekend), but I liked it that way. The farmer's markets I've been to in San Francisco were quite extensive, and could be overwhelming. It's hard to choose something when you're faced with countless adorable carts of organic honey, fresh-shucked oysters, and local goat cheeses ... I mean, it's great, but is it a farmer's market or Zabar's? That was the one on the Embarcadero ... at Civic Center and Alemany the problem was choosing between 40 tables of bok choy and broccoli rabe.

But that's San Francisco. I like choices, but in Somerville's Union Square, you can pick up a simple pint of blueberries and feel good about it. Fresh, in season, nothing fancy.

The market has a nice community feeling. A small tent was set up where performers were playing songs, a faithful cover of Leonard Cohen's "That's No Way to Say Goodbye" among them. (Folk lives on in Cambridge/Somerville. Last weekend we saw a preppy-looking college kid playing "The Boxer" on guitar in Harvard Square. Pretty much exactly the same as when I came here for college 15 years ago.)

You can show your support with a Farmer's Market T-shirt ...

Eggplants, green beans, and I think tomatillos make a nice color composition ...

A psychedelic bunch of glads ...

Mmm, pies ...

Early McIntoshes, harbingers of fall.

"Summer's almost over!" everyone keeps saying. Wait, wait! Slow down! We just got here!

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Road to Julia's

You may know that Julia Child was a longtime resident of Cambridge, filming her show in the kitchen of her home there. The very spot is no more than 15 minutes from our place.

If you're walking up from Mass. Ave., first you'll come upon this little lane, charmingly illuminated at night by country club-style path lights so that you don't need to feel afraid.

Going on the information of the mother of a friend of mine, who grew up in this area, we refer to this path as "the way to where the rich people live."

The Irving Street sign lets you know you're headed in the right direction.

Evidence that this area is indeed "where the rich people live." Is that building to the right a guest house? A horse stable? Trust me that our street, just five blocks away, does not look like this.

And then suddenly, there it is, looking just like it does in the opening credits of Jacques and Julia, except without the flowering pink tree, at least not at this time of year.

Does the wine taste better on this street? Does the chicken roast more evenly in this kitchen? You have to wonder.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Clam Box

If you find yourself in the Boston area with a craving for fried seafood that cannot be suppressed, you might want to head an hour north to the Clam Box of Ipswich.

No, it's not a strip club, but you can get fried clam strips there.

Note the resemblance of the building to an actual cardboard carton, and the way the patrons queue up for their heap of breaded rubbery treats. Their appeal escaped me, too, at first, but at some point something changed.

This is also the place where I first learned about lobster rolls. For the uninitiated, this dish consists of a lobster-mayo salad, lovingly placed on a hotdog bun, perhaps garnished with a leaf of iceberg lettuce. Though they are consumed on picnic tables, usually among throngs of screeching children, their asking price starts at about 12 bucks apiece.

It's a lot of lobster, though.

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The Plaster Welcoming Committee

Our new neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts, is a wonderland of lawn ornaments.

A collection of gnomes lounges on a blanket of cedar chips ...

These critters are kept safe behind a chain-link fence ... or is that for your protection?

A wishing well, now out of favor with its owners, even though it's been painted to match the house ...

Dutch make-out session, blurred by the censors ...

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