Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood’

pavement tea cup window cafe Boston back bay

As regular readers know, I have a deep, longstanding and well-documented love affair with Darwin’s, the coffee shop in Cambridge I have adopted as my own.

I started going there – first occasionally, then regularly – not long after I began working at Harvard, and I came to love nearly everything about it, especially the people and the chai.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

I’m not a coffee drinker, preferring hot tea year-round: ginger peach, Earl Grey, strong black tea with milk when it’s frigid out. But I am a lover of chai lattes, and Darwin’s spicy, house-made chai mix blended with steamed milk (and served with a smile) is my gold standard. I work across the river now, but I still made regular trips to the Square for chai this fall.

The adjustment to a new neighborhood has been, shall we say, difficult. And while I’m planning to continue popping over to Darwin’s when I can, I know I also need to embrace this new place. So I’ve been making a study of chai lattes in the area near my office.

Back Bay has no shortage of cafes, though I tend to avoid Starbucks and Peet’s in favor of independent coffee shops or Boston-based chains. Pavement and Flour, both in the latter category, each have two locations nearby. The baristas (many of them students) are kind, though the chai at both places is too sweet for me. (Flour is a good lunch spot, though.)

To my surprise, Trident, the quirky indie bookstore on Newbury Street, does a decent chai with lots of cinnamon, and I dropped by Caffe Nero last week to sample their chai. (Also too sweet, though I like the atmosphere – and I associate Caffe Nero with Oxford, where I first discovered it.) The Boston Public Library, in addition to having all the wonderful books, does a pretty good chai. And there are a few places I haven’t tried yet.

I’m under no illusions that I will find a new Darwin’s: any coffee shop I love over here will be different, and that’s (mostly) fine. When I really need it, my favorite Darwin’s chai and my beloved baristas are just across the river. (As are my florist, Mem Church and the Cambridge streets I adore.)

Part of this quixotic quest is just giving myself a mission – or something to look forward to – on these bitter winter mornings. And if I can’t find the perfect chai, a few smiles from new baristas are still no small thing.

What helps you feel at home in a new neighborhood?


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darwins mug heart table striped journal

When I thought about the shape of this freelancing summer, I knew one thing: it would still include lots of time in Cambridge.

I’ve been working on several projects for Harvard, which means I sometimes come into the Square for meetings and research. But, more simply and importantly: this is my neighborhood. I love it here in Cambridge, and whether I’m sending out resumes, writing book reviews or meeting friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than Harvard Square.

Tuesdays this summer, in particular, have fallen into a routine I’m loving.

First: a morning with my journal and laptop at Darwin’s, drinking tea, writing and answering emails. Sometimes I meet up with a friend and we co-work for a while, taking breaks to chat. Other times it’s just me: elbows on a green table, sunshine pouring through the plate-glass window at my back.

The sunset walls, the cheerful baristas, strong Earl Grey or ginger peach in a deep mug and a sweet-tart lemon scone: all of these are deeply familiar delights. I nod to a couple of other regulars, and either ease or dive into the work, depending on the day.

Around lunchtime, I close my laptop and head to the Harvard farmers’ market, where I get lunch from Amanda: homemade Texas tamales, elotes (street corn) slathered with garlicky sauce and spices, and a container of salsa roja to take home to my husband.

tamales elotes lunch

I find a shady spot, if I can, to perch and eat my lunch. The people-watching at the market is always a treat, and then I go pick up the week’s fruit from my favorite produce guys. I loved chatting with them about the World Cup earlier in the summer, but we also talk about the weather, the market or whatever comes to mind.

I run a few errands or go work at the library for a while, then frequently meet a friend in the afternoon for (iced) tea. Inevitably, I’ll run into another few folks I know (or see some of my favorite baristas), and sometimes I go by the florist to pick up a bouquet for my kitchen table.

Making the rounds, seeing my people, walking the familiar streets I love: this is my place. And on Tuesdays, especially, I get to glory in it.

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candles ashmont vigil

Metal and glass, granite and flame: I snapped this photo at a small vigil in Dorchester last Sunday night, in the wake of the awful events in Charlottesville.

I’d seen a list online of vigils in the Boston area, so the hubs and I hopped on the trolley to the Ashmont T station (about a mile from our new house) to join about 50 people in a quiet show of solidarity and peace.

I wasn’t sure whether to go: I am wary, in these uncertain days, of doing anything just to make myself feel better, when none of this is about me at all. I didn’t go so I could tell people I’d gone; I was shy even about introducing myself to others who were there. But it still felt important to show up, to stand with other people in our new neighborhood who care about justice and peace, and who understand that we are all culpable in this long story of hurt and hatred and injustice in the country we love.

We chanted Heather Heyer’s name; we sang a verse of a song about peace and carrying burdens together; and afterward, a few of us stood around chatting, learning each other’s names: Patricia, Johanna, Orin, Rachel, James, Lizzie, Kathleen. I left feeling still heartbroken, but quietly buoyed up.

It felt so small, hardly worth mentioning – but worth doing.  I share my experience here, in case you are wondering if the small things you’re doing are worth it, or in case you need an idea of how that might look. Because showing up – however that looks – always matters. I have to believe that.

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cedar grove gardens

This weekend, the hubs and I finally visited Cedar Grove Gardens, the gorgeous garden center that’s a short walk from our new house. I crave beauty, green growing things, flowers and feeling at home in the place I live, and our visit there provided all of that.

herb garden back porch plants

I now have an herb garden on the back porch, and I could not resist one more geranium. (Apparently “geranium, mint, rosemary and basil” is my version of “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”)

geranium red pot back porch flower

I also crave welcome and safety (don’t we all?), and am thinking about ways to provide it for others, in light of the horrifying events this weekend in Charlottesville.

I am furious and heartsick and I have no idea what to say or do, but as Karen said, I’ll figure it out. Because we all must. Hatred and bigotry should have no place in this country, and it’s high time we rooted them out. We must (I keep saying) be of interest to each other, and act like it. Starting now, in whatever ways (small and big) we can.

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darwins chai cup creamer coffee shop cambridge ma

10 a.m.: One medium chai latte, to go.

12:30 p.m.: Half a Longfellow sandwich (ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, sliced Granny Smith apples and spicy Dijon mustard) on sourdough. With salt and vinegar chips in a bright turquoise bag, if they’re available.

3:30 p.m.: One chocolate-dipped butter cookie, shaped like a heart, shamrock, Easter egg or autumn leaf, as the season dictates.

These are my usual orders at Darwin’s, the cafe down the street from my office. Sometimes the particulars vary a bit: I’ll add a buttery scone to my morning order, or splurge on a chocolate-glazed peanut butter cookie in the afternoon. If I’m feeling healthy I’ll swap the chips at lunch for a fruit salad, and on frigid days, I’ll often order a bowl of the daily soup, with a hunk of baguette for dipping.

I’ve worked in the same neighborhood for three years, and been an occasional visitor to Darwin’s for most of that time. But over the last year, I’ve become a regular. And it has brought me more pleasure than I could have dreamed.

I’m over at Art House America today waxing rhapsodic about my love for Darwin’s, and what it means to be a regular. Please join me over there to read the rest of my essay.

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harvard yard memorial church view

Here is part of the truth about working at Harvard: it took a little while for it to feel like mine.

I admit to being a little intimidated – as one might expect. Harvard is storied, prestigious and often complicated to navigate, geographically and otherwise. (Harvard comprises more than a dozen schools, which each function as semi-autonomous units, but there’s a lot of cross-pollination, and some policies and procedures are university-wide.)

memorial hall harvard

I was fortunate to find a “home base” right away: my office at the Ed School’s campus on Appian Way, two blocks from the heart of the Square. I had colleagues who made me feel welcome and tried to explain the ins and outs of working for a unit within Harvard, while still being part of Harvard as a whole. (Confused yet?)

blue sky appian way

That first winter, I set about exploring Harvard Square, starting with familiar ground: Crema Cafe, the Yard, Memorial Church, the Harvard Book Store. Gradually, I added to my store of knowledge: shops, cafes and restaurants; the bank, the post office, the florist. I peeked into Widener Library, daring to check out a few books and DVDs. I soaked up the bits of Harvard lore I heard from colleagues and student tour guides, and I memorized dozens of acronyms related to offices and units across campus. (Harvard loves an acronym.)

And yet.

For a long while, I stuck mostly to my small patch of the Square: my office, the Yard, my favorite cafes and bookstores. I was a little shy about going farther afield. This is a big place, and it’s easy to get lost, or to feel intimidated when you’re heading to a new part of campus. There is so much to absorb, so much to take in, about this place and how it works. It can be hard to feel like you really belong here.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

Two and a half years in, I still feel these things occasionally. But by now, Harvard also feels like mine.

My work this summer has taken me to parts of campus I’d never seen before: the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Design, the Center for Astrophysics, the brand-new Launch Lab over at the Business School. I’ve spent a few afternoons in Lamont Library and found my way to numerous new-to-me offices and buildings.

All the while, I’ve continued to frequent my favorite places: Harvard Yard, green and summer-lush; the Harvard Art Museums, full of objects both fascinating and beautiful; Appian Way, still my center of gravity here. And I have realized again what I already knew: I love this place, this landscape, this institution, down to my bones.

I never expected to work at Harvard, or to fall in love with it the way I have. But I am grateful to be here, retracing familiar paths and discovering new corners of campus. It can be complicated, sometimes maddeningly bureaucratic – and the intimidation hasn’t all disappeared. But my Harvard staff ID and my heart say the same thing: it’s mine.

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longfellow garden radcliffe yard

Two weeks ago, I left the house early and caught a less-crowded-than-usual train, arriving in Harvard Square well before I had to be at work. I walked across Harvard Yard to Memorial Church, which hosts Morning Prayers every weekday during term-time from 8:45 to 9 a.m. (I had been wanting to try it out, but hadn’t yet managed to arrive early enough.)

I stepped inside, almost holding my breath, and slipped into a pew as the strains of the opening hymn rolled around me.

Golden sunlight spilled through the high, clear glass window behind the chapel, paneled in richly carved dark wood, and through the larger windows to my left, falling across the high-walled box pews. I listened as a graduating senior gave a brief, brave speech about navigating an unexpected pregnancy during her time at Harvard, and the ways in which it has made her a stronger, more compassionate person.

I bowed my head and recited the Lord’s Prayer along with the two dozen or so others present, then stood to sing the final hymn (“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”). The minister gave a familiar benediction from Jude, the favorite of a minister friend back in Texas. I watched the choir, fourteen lanky undergraduates in black robes, process out, then made my way to my office, three blocks away.

The whole experience, bathed in light and music, felt like a gift, like a windfall of grace.

In some ways, every workday of the last three months – since I started my new job at the Harvard Graduate School of Education – has felt like that.

I had a nodding acquaintance with Harvard Square (thanks in large part to its lovely cafes and bookstores) before I started work at the Ed School, as it’s known around here. But I did not know it intimately, the way I knew my downtown neighborhood after working there for two years. Three months in, I am still discovering all sorts of new pleasures.

The morning walk to the office from the Red Line, down Church Street (if I want to stop at Starbucks) or down Garden Street by Cambridge Common (if I want to smell the lilacs blooming along the fence). Lunchtime treats from Darwin’s or Crema; occasional trips to Lizzy’s for ice cream. Browsing sessions at the Harvard Book Store or Raven Used Books. Long walks, wherever my feet take me, or quiet moments in the small sunken garden next to my building. The light through the two large windows in our office suite on the “garden level,” and the cheery camaraderie and frequent laughter of my colleagues.

irises longfellow garden

It all feels like a gift, like a windfall of grace.

I have struggled at times to feel at home in Boston, to feel safe, to relax and exhale. But this green, quietly bustling corner of the Harvard campus already feels like a home. Like a place to belong. A community to settle into (especially as we celebrate our graduates this week). It feels like a neighborhood to keep exploring and making my own. And I am so deeply grateful.

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