Touring My Own Neighborhood (and City)

One of the reasons I enjoy working on a birthday list every year is that it gets me out into my own neighborhood and city and helps me appreciate all that is at my doorstep.

A friend and I recently took a historic walking tour of a local neighborhood. I’ve lived in the same three-mile radius for 17 years, and this was the first walking tour I’d taken in the area. It was nice to take the time to look at local architecture and hear some historical facts about the neighborhood. One woman on the tour had grown up in the area, and it was cool to hear her share firsthand knowledge of the changes over time.

Local Art Deco building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the same time period, I took my first Boston by Foot walking tour. I don’t know what took me so long! I went on the “Dark Side of Boston” tour. The volunteer tour guide was great, and I learned some new things about Boston. I learned that the North End neighborhood used to be extremely dodgy and was called the Black Sea.

I learned that Charles Ponzi, the man behind the Ponzi scheme, created his scheme in Boston. I put a misconception to rest: I thought the Boston Strangler killed his victims in the 1800s; I guess I equated him with Jack the Ripper? Nope, the Boston Strangler was killing his victims in the 1960s. The tour guide grew up in the Boston area and remembered that his neighbors started locking their doors during that time.

There wasn’t much of a dark side to the story of the narrowest house in Boston…just your run-of-the-mill brotherly spite. A father left land to his sons when he died, and the one son built a huge house and left his brother very little land. That brother went ahead and built a house on the tiny spot. The guide said that the house recently sold for $800K. That’s Boston real estate for you…

Skinny house

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

I’m reporting on the birthday list out of order because of a sense of urgency.

One week ago, I participated in the Boston Women’s March for America. Although I participated in a small march for water justice for the birthday list years ago, this march is going on this year’s list. It was a rally AND a march…and I have never been to a rally and a march with 175,000+ other people!

I attended with a group of friends. We arrived about an hour before the start of the rally. We were pretty far back, so once more people arrived and filled in, we couldn’t see the stage. But we were able to hear all of the motivational speeches by our mayor, senators, and local human rights advocates and community members.

Boston Women's March for America

An hour before the start of the rally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t put into words what the experience felt like. If I were forced to, I would say it was peaceful, positive, and purposeful. There were people of all ages, gender identities, and nationalities. Many of the signs that people were carrying made us laugh out loud in solidarity. The event organizers were not prepared for the number of people in attendance, so we waited in a logjam for two hours before approaching the start of the march route.

Boston Women's March for America

Waiting in the logjam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The march was great because people were yelling chants into bullhorns to encourage us to use our voices. One of my favorites was “This is what democracy looks like!” By the time we reached the halfway mark of the 1.5 mile route, my friends and I had been on our feet for six hours. Hungry and tired, we peeled off and headed home.

Boston Women's March for America

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing that there were 700+ marches taking place around the world made me feel even more empowered and hopeful. There are millions of people who care about equality for all. As one of the speakers said, “There are more of us than there are of them.”

Boston Women's March for America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I completed the first of 10 actions for the first 100 days. I sent postcards to my senators, writing about which causes I care most about and why. Join me!

 

Winter and the Blues

Right before the holidays, two friends and I checked out “Boston Winter,” a shopping/drinking/ice skating situation in downtown Boston. It was the first year that such a situation existed in Boston. I think it was a great start for utilizing the open space and offering people another festive activity during the holiday season.

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The big attraction was the ice skating rink, which looked popular. There was also a family-friendly chocolate tasting tent, a wine-tasting tent, and an “urban lodge” tent that sold alcohol. About 30 chalets selling all kinds of gifts dotted the landscape.

It was very cold the night we went, but we still enjoyed the opportunity to do some last-minute gift shopping.

That’s birthday list item #6. Buying a Bessie Smith album a few days later is item #7. Each year, I like to buy an album of a musician’s that I don’t yet own. I’ve been trying to buy more albums of female artists.

Allen and I went to House of Guitars while visiting my family for the holidays. It’s a candy store for music lovers. It’s organized chaos…so I happened upon the blues section as I was wandering and found a Bessie Smith album, Empress of the Blues. As far as I can tell, it’s a random mix of her hits.

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I’ve given it a few listens so far. Her voice is just beautiful. And even though the songs were written 80+ years ago, the themes of love, loss, and more love and more loss, still resonate.

The Lost Neighborhood of Boston

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The West End Museum had been on my birthday to-do list for a few years, and I finally made it there this year. All I knew about the West End before my visit was its general location in the city of Boston and that actor Leonard Nimoy had grown up there.

I was not expecting to learn a tragic story.

The West End was a bustling, crowded community of immigrants. The Irish started settling there in the 1850s. Then the Eastern Europeans came. Then the Italians came. Some African Americans also settled there. It was a community of the working poor. From what I read in the museum, all of the different ethnic groups lived together harmoniously. Apartments were small, so people hung out on their front stoops and street corners.

In the 1950s, the West End became a victim of “urban renewal.” The city of Boston started redeveloping neighborhoods with federal funds. The West End was in need of a makeover; buildings were run down and the narrow streets were a fire hazard. Residents were displaced but they were told that new affordable housing would be available, which would allow them to return.

See where this is going? Former residents couldn’t afford to return. And as it was, they were paying higher rents for substandard housing wherever they had been displaced.

This redevelopment plan was poorly implemented and affected thousands of people. Their community was ripped away from them and many were traumatized.

This tragedy happened 50–60 years ago and former residents still have a bond with their neighbors and with their neighborhood. The West Ender is a quarterly newsletter published by a former resident through which people share memories and search for long-lost neighbors and classmates.

But back to the museum itself. It consists of two large rooms. One room houses the permanent exhibit, which tells the whole story and includes many artifacts and photos. The other room houses rotating exhibits. The current exhibit when I visited highlighted the history of the West End’s schools. The Abiel Smith School was one of the first public schools for black students in the United States. The Wendell Phillips School was one of Boston’s first integrated schools. The Somerset Street School was the first public kindergarten in the United States. English High School was one of the first public high schools in the country. Impressive, no?

I’m glad that this museum exists, so the history of Boston’s lost neighborhood is not forgotten.

Books and Cats

I’ve been wanting to visit Portland, Oregon, for years. I knew that I would love it, but it would be an expensive trip and I would have to take at least a week off from work. And I tend to take all of my big vacations in England, my second home.

Well, the stars aligned earlier this year and my vice president agreed to pay for me to attend a conference in Portland in April. Not only would I be attending my first American Copy Editors Society conference, but I would also have the opportunity to explore a city that I knew I would be smitten with.

The conference was great. I was surrounded by hundreds of people who cared about grammar and spelling and proper usage of words. There were entire sessions on dictionaries, a spelling bee, and a formal dinner at which the keynote speaker used images of Grumpy Cat during her speech.

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But, this post is about birthday list items. I did a number of things I’ve never done before, but the two most important ones were:

  1. Walked the aisles of the world’s largest bookstore = Powell’s Books

Powell's Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

I only managed to carve out one hour to spend at Powell’s, but it was a glorious hour. There are so many sections that whole wings of the store are color coded. Luckily I found an information desk early on and an employee told me where to find the travel and music sections. I was half giddy and half teary eyed throughout the experience. I left with a happy heart and gratitude toward Portlanders for supporting this store.

2. Visited a cat café

I’ve been obsessed with cat cafés for a few years now. I don’t remember how I first heard about them, but I’ve known about the cat cafés in San Francisco, London, and Montreal for a while. I met a number of people from Montreal at a conference in January, and our introductions went something like this:

Me: Hi, I’m Nancy. I work at xx.

Montrealer: Hi, I’m xx. I work at xx.

Me: That’s great! Have you been to either of the cat cafés??

Only one Montrealer was aware that the cat cafés existed, and she hadn’t visited it.

So my friend Kara whom I met in Boston lives in Portland now, and she graciously played host during my sightseeing days. She offhandedly mentioned that there was a cat café in Portland and a record scratch went off in my head. “Can we go???” I pleaded.

She said, “Sure!” And so we found ourselves at Purringtons on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Purringtons

Major life goal realized

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We bought tea and then paid a fee to hang with the kitties for an hour. There were six kitties and some were napping or unenthused by our presence. But we were able to get some good pets in. This cat was a lover.

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It was a fun experience, and I look forward to visiting other cat cafés in the future…

This post is long enough, but I just have to mention the other wonderful things that Portland offers:

Beer, donuts, coffee, culture, nice people, and a startlingly amount of natural beauty.

If it were about 2,500 miles closer, I would move there in a heartbeat.

Hoyt Arboretum

Redwoods in Hoyt Arboretum

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40 things to do on the birthday list!

BirthdayJune 1st, 2015

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