Posts Tagged ‘neighborhoods’

I was waiting in line at the post office recently (enjoying the Mary Tyler Moore episode playing on their new TV), and witnessed something that made my day…

A stooped older gentleman came in asking about the keys to his post office box, which he’d misplaced. One of the postal workers – who clearly knew him by name – immediately said: Oh, you left your box open last week, so we put the keys in it for you, honey. Her colleague retrieved the keys and handed them over, and with some gentle teasing, the man went on his way.

I loved everything about that interaction: the fact that the man got his keys back, the fact that the workers instantly knew where they were, the kindness in the woman’s voice as she called him honey. (She was probably young enough to be his granddaughter.) It was such a moment of care, in a busy city on a grey Thursday afternoon, that it delighted me simply to witness it.

I always feel privileged when I get a peek into moments of tenderness between people, and this sweet instance of neighborly kindness – in a business setting, no less – felt especially precious. I appreciated, too, the not-so-subtle reminder that, as the Mary Tyler Moore theme song reminds us, love is all around.


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On a recent Saturday afternoon, I took myself to Boston’s North End for some wandering, before meeting a friend and her kids for ice cream nearby. I’ve long enjoyed an occasional meal out there – the neighborhood is justly famous for its Italian food – but in the 12 years I have spent in Boston, I’ve rarely gone there simply to explore. It felt good to wander around while not worrying about making a dinner reservation, and I found a few new spots to enjoy.

My first stop, as you can tell from the photo, was I AM Books – a delightful Italian-American bookstore, which moved to its new home on Salem Street last fall. I’d never visited its first incarnation, to my shame, but this one is glorious. It has tons of space and an amazing selection of books about Italy, books in Italian, books on Italian food and culture, and books by Italian-American authors. I picked up a food memoir and some expensive (but delicious) chili-spiced chocolate.

The neighborhood has more than a few small shops, and I dropped into several: a funky vintage store, a sweet gift shop, a venerable wine shop with an incredible selection, a market called Going Bananas. There were lots of tourists around (it was a Saturday in July, after all), but it was fun to wander the streets as a local, picking up an item or two for dinner and noting restaurants I’d like to try soon.

My last stop was Salumeria Italiana, which my guy and I discovered only recently. Their sandwiches are delicious (and affordable!), but I was after something else: the briny mixed olives from their deli counter, which G loves. I picked up a bag of Tuscan crackers to go with them, and headed home via the T. I think I’ll save my next North End excursion for when the tourist traffic calms a bit – but it was still fun to explore a corner of my city in a way I rarely do.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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back bay church trees Hancock tower

I’m into the eighth week at my new job, and I get asked all the time: How is it? Are you settling in? Do you like it?

The answers to all these questions are mostly positive, but alongside them is another truth: adjusting to a new neighborhood has been hard.

My first job in the Boston area was at Emerson College, steps from the Common and the Boston Public Garden. My new job, at Berklee College of Music, finds me a mile or so from there, among the collection of brownstones and skyscrapers that make up the Back Bay.

I miss Harvard Square, where I’ve spent every workday for the last five years and which (as regular readers know) I adore. But there are a few things, so far, to recommend this neighborhood. Here they are, in no particular order:

Boston public library blue sky Hancock tower Boston

  • The gorgeous central Boston Public Library, above, a few blocks from my office. I often pop in during my workday or on my way to the train. Bonus: they have a good cafe.
  • The sunny, plant-filled conference room at work, where I take my laptop as often as I can.
  • The tiny Trader Joe’s down the street, which provides me with affordable flowers (when I can’t get to Brattle Square), dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and a place to grab last-minute grocery items.
  • The Copley Square farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Related: the few intrepid vendors who come out even in the rain. I miss Amanda and her tamales, but am glad for a place to pick up fresh produce.
  • The nearest Flour location, which has $5 soup, decent chai (it’s not Darwin’s but it’ll do), and friendly employees.
  • The Commonwealth Avenue mall: green and lovely and dotted with benches.
  • So many happy dogs, walking the streets with their owners or in packs shepherded by dog walkers.
  • Trident, the newly reopened bookstore down the street.
  • The midweek Eucharist service at Trinity Church: I’ve only been once so far but it was lovely.
  • Occasional walks along the Esplanade, when I have time.

What’s saving your life these days? Heaven knows we all need to take our joy where we can find it, right now.

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south portland st brooklyn

One of the delights of visiting and revisiting a city: there are neighborhoods that become yours.

Last month, the hubs and I spent our third weekend in Fort Greene, which has become our favorite pocket of Brooklyn. I’d just spent three days at a conference in midtown and I was ready to get out of the bustle and glitz, to a tangle of quieter streets where people actually live. Coming out of Manhattan, even dragging all my luggage, felt like a much-needed exhale. And coming up out of the subway onto Fulton Street – even into a cold winter wind – felt like coming home.

We rented the top floor of a brownstone near Fort Greene Park, and spent the weekend popping into our favorite places and discovering new ones. It was the kind of travel I adore: the new and novel blended with the comforting and familiar.

We didn’t even discuss where to go for dinner on Friday night, but headed straight to Madiba for bowls of spicy lamb curry with raisin-studded saffron rice. When we told our hostess we were headed to the farmers’ market in the park the next morning, she laughed. “You’re practically natives!” And, indeed, it felt wonderful to stroll the stands and buy a cup of steaming apple cider and a scone the size of my fist. We perched on a bench and sipped our cider, watching dogs and children running in the cold, crisp air.


I’d made a short list of places to revisit, and we hit all of them: Greenlight Bookstore, the winter Brooklyn Flea market, the wonderful Greene Grape and its adjacent wine shop, and the bagel place on Lafayette Avenue. We ate Sunday brunch at Walter’s and strolled up and down the streets we love. But we also visited new coffee shops, turned down unfamiliar corners, ate guacamole and huevos at Pequeña. And we did something I’ve long wanted to do: took the gorgeous walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

brooklyn bridge cables sky

New York, more than most cities, offers endless new discoveries, and I am surprised and delighted by it every time I visit. But I also love that certain parts of it have become mine, or ours. Fort Greene welcomed us back, and I’m already looking forward to our next trip there.

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The leaves on the Common are flaming out in color, shedding the thick, lush green of late summer for the panoply of fall. A few weeks ago, the spindly maples lining the brick path between the bandstand and the tennis court began flaunting their red leaves, and I thought, “These maples always turn first.” Autumn winds have now stripped off half their leaves, but vibrant shades of scarlet and orange remain. This, too, happens every year.

boston common maples autumn leaves red orange

I have lived here long enough to know a few things: which trees on the Common bud first in early spring, when the Swan Boats come out for the season and when they disappear. I know the stretch where the wind sweeps most fiercely down the east side of the Common. I can tell by the sky if the outdoor carts at the Brattle will be open, or if the booksellers will hedge their bets and cover the carts, but open the shelves. I have a favorite stand at the farmer’s market. I am a small part of the bustling routine of this particular city, these few square blocks, this everyday.

carrots peaches farmers market summer fall

And yet: I have not yet learned to hide my surprise when a grove of green trees turns orange overnight. New obstacles on familiar streets (construction, always construction) catch me off guard. There are still fresh delights to discover, like the food truck near the Park Street station, with its rosemary french fries, mulled cider and friendly staff. And sometimes I board a crowded subway train and snag a seat for the ride home. After a long day, a square of faux leather and plastic to perch on feels like grace.

I have been here long enough to know this blogging neighborhood, too. Eight years and hundreds of posts – today marks my 1,000th – is sufficient time to get to know any terrain. I have my favorite haunts, my well-traveled paths online. Some bloggers and readers are constant companions, others intermittent visitors. I know the landscape and can predict some of the seasonal changes. I have a practice, a process, a routine.

I began writing in this space as a college student in Oxford, posting commentary on The Lord of the Rings as part of a guided study conducted with a professor back in Texas. I quit posting when I came home, but started blogging a year later with a group of friends on a private site. At the urging of another friend, I switched back to this public blog, to muse about travel, books, college life and the looming uncertainty of my future.

I never expected to reach 1000 posts, as I typed in the crowded computer lab on Canterbury Road in 2004. The online world continues to surprise me: how huge and unknown it still is, how fast it can grow, how much potential it holds for connection. There is plenty of rubbish too, like the litter and grit along Boston’s streets: the Internet can be a venue for bickering, bullying, snark or simply too much shouting. Sometimes I retreat from it for a day or a weekend or longer. But I always come back. And this online corner of my own, a place to connect with readers and share my life, feels like grace.

Our digital world is changing so rapidly that I can’t predict where I’ll be writing in another eight years or 1,000 posts. But for now, I plan to keep coming back here, sharing books and travelogues and bits of my life story with you. The element of connection makes this space rich and sacred, and for that – and for all of you – I am so grateful.

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