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Seven Hills

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

Friday, December 23, 2005

Inman Square Holiday

Happy friends at the hardware store ...

Following yonder star ...

Get your lights here ...

Or stop in 1369 Coffee House for a quick warm-up.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Window on Vermont

We drove up to Vermont the other weekend on the heels of a messy storm. The roads in Somerville were thick with ice, just terrible, but they seemed to have a handle on things on the New Hampshire and Vermont highways.

Things were snowy and idyllic up there.

We arrived just in time for the Parade of Horses in the town of Woodstock. Most of the riders were ladies in sweeping velvet gowns, but there were a few guys like these decked out in their finest Carhartts.

Breakfast was at Blanche & Bill's. The menu was brief, but the walls were covered with signs in felt-tipped marker listing innumerable iterations of the various pancake-egg-meat combos available. Blanche and the gang sat one table over from us when it was time for their lunch. They prayed to Jesus, and then gossiped about the "evil" man who lived near one of them and how he yelled at his wife and kids. In the restroom, another felt-tipped sign asked ladies to please refrain from using the toilet to dispose of "the obvious."

The Ottauquechee River, starting to freeze.

The Coffee and Tea House is a good place to warm up.

You can get chilled out (in the spiritual sense) in the Birch Forest Lounge there, cozy with your maple latte.

The covered bridge in Woodstock looks olde timey, but was actually built as a reproduction in 1969. These ladies were searching for the next house on the Holiday Home Tour.

Sunset at the farmers' market, time to go home.


Monday, December 12, 2005

The Migrators

Last week I bought my first new winter coat in ten years. I have a wide selection of coats that look like winter coats, but they only consist of a single layer of wool and wimpy nylon lining, nothing that would stand up to actual winter temperatures. I happened to stumble on a one-day-only 50% off coat sale at Macy's, and walked out with a big puffy knee-length down sleeping bag of a coat. Once zipped up it creates its own little micro-climate, a fluffy pod of pleasant summer-day warmth. Which is nice when everything above and below the pod is searing with cold before it freezes solid and falls off.

I was wearing it when we walked home from a local bar the other night, the first deeply cold night of the year. The people we were meeting, long-time Boston residents, were startled that we'd walked over; they'd all driven. This made me feel both tough and a little stupid. At the end of the night as we neared Inman Square we heard the overhead honking of migrating geese, clear and close in the darkness. It seemed late for them to be getting out of town, and incongruous that they'd be crossing an urban area, like a flock of chickens clucking past the cafe on the corner.

A few days later I noticed this group of geese nosing around the pond at the Cambridgeside Galleria mall.

Again it seemed odd to see them anywhere but a country meadow. But I guess a pond is a pond, when you're a goose.

Hearing the geese that night got my friend and I thinking about the children's book "The Fledgling," one of a series of fantasy-philosophy tales by the writer Jane Langton. This one was all the rage in my fourth grade class after one of my classmates discovered it; we all dreamed of escaping our misunderstood lives and flying off with a huge Canada goose. Someone evil wanted to kill the goose, too, as I remember it, so it had that bittersweet doomed-animal appeal in the storyline as well.

Not quite a goose but also meriting mention here is this prime example of string art we came across this weekend. A mallard duck, in all its stringy glory.

There isn't anything more I can say about this picture that it doesn't already say so well itself.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

At the BPL

When I was growing up my mother worked for the publishing division of the American Library Association. She wasn't a librarian or anything, but I still always felt a certain sense of belonging when it came to libraries, like I knew what went on behind the scenes. We always got those "Read" posters with pictures of Muppets on them, and the Caldecott picture book illustration calendar, and sometimes my mom would bring me galleys of the new Lois Lowry books before they were published. I was an insider. Here's a picture of me at the age of eight in an incongruent glamour pose on the cover of an ALA reference book:

Dig the mod, two-tone design treatment, like it's some kind of jazz album. That wasn't actually a children's book I was perusing; it was a very boring science pamphlet. But that was my favorite t-shirt: "Hearts." I was waiting for my mom at the office after school one day and her coworker needed a kid for the cover of this book. Thus, a star was born.

I'm not a true library nerd - I met too many of those at my old job to think I'm one of them (you know who you are) - but I like to think I know a thing or two when it comes to libraries. And one of the things I like to think is that every real city should have a real library, preferably a big old one, downtown, with lions guarding the front doors and a huge old reading room with long tables and little green-shaded lamps.

The Boston Public Library (or BPL, for those who talk about it so much they must abbreviate) does pretty well on most of these counts. It's situated in downtown Boston on graceful Copley Square. Skate punks are fond of its broad plaza steps.

No lions at the gates; two stately ladies do the job instead. Art and Wisdom, perhaps? Whatever they are, they're not a little scary!

Another library must-have: the inspirational motto posted above the door. Free to all, as every library should be.

Is that you, Aslan? Who wants to sit around outside in the cold? Leave that to the scary ladies. Smart lions guard the steps indoors.

Graceful murals. (I'm too lazy to look up who painted them. Proof that I'm not a real library geek. Turn down a chance to use reference materials? Never!)

A glimpse into the reading room. Everyone looks like they're deep in their books, but of course they all look up when anyone walks in the room, dying for a distraction.

It's the Starbucks mermaid! Complete with racy split tail. Sorry this is so dark - no flash photog allowed in the library.

And at last, a view of the reading room from a balcony above. I didn't want to distract those distractable readers any more than I had to with my annoying beeping camera.

I spent several consecutive days here one summer with a broken hand reading Ian Frazier's "Great Plains." I was determined to read this book, and could only locate it in the closed stacks at the main branch, which meant I had to read it on site. I was taking big doses of Percocet for the hand and drifting in and out of fantasy anyway, so it was probably a safe place for me. I don't remember much of the book, unfortunately, but it was a memorable place to read it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pen-and-Ink Windowscape

It's starting to get dark around 4 o'clock here now. There's a flock of starlings in the neighborhood that lives according to currents unseen by me: breaking into a cacophany of starling-song all at once by our kitchen window, or flying suddenly to the roof across the street, then taking off and returning to the big tree by our house just as abruptly.

I was noticing today, as they perched in this tree, how much they resembled the current design trend of organic shapes and bird silhouettes ... silkscreen-ready, practically.

Or maybe an illustration from a fairy tale, signaling something ominous. What are those birds up to?