Charles River Esplanade, 1998

For my 23rd birthday, I received a new point-and-shoot film camera. Having moved to Boston without a camera six months before, I headed out the following Sunday to make good use of my gift.

I walked all over central Boston: Back Bay, Beacon Hill, The North End and Government Center; I spent the most time going up and down the Charles River Esplanade, most famously home to the Hatch Memorial Shell, a concert venue.

From there, I crossed the Longfellow Bridge from Boston to Cambridge, the Red Line T rushing by in the middle of it.

It was chilly crossing the bridge, but worth it for the stunning views of the Back Bay skyline, then and now flanked by the tall, gleaming John Hancock Tower and the slightly shorter Prudential Center.

On the Cambridge side of the Charles, I passed MIT and took a short detour to see the campus’ renowned Great Dome up close.

I crossed the Charles back into Boston along the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge; I’ve walked it from one side to the other in either direction many times since then.

As I made my way back to my Allston apartment, I walked past the George Sherman Union at Boston University…

…and also along one of the footbridges over Storrow Drive that connects the Esplanade with the rest of the city.

Camera in tow, I returned to the Esplanade on Easter Sunday some six weeks later.

Spring was in bloom, but the air was still cool. The park wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t exactly crowded, either.

I took so many walks that first year in Boston, getting to know the lay of the land mostly by foot.

I made some friends through school, but I had to learn to be on my own. I thrived most doing so when I was not confined to my small apartment but out in the world.

I was lonely, but it was an important experience to have. In time, I understood what it meant to be independent, that I didn’t always have to rely on others to feel valued or whole.

In the years to come, I’d often forget that feeling, reverting back to a fear of being alone, equating it with a lack of fulfillment.  However, I eventually grew to appreciate having that time to myself, whether via a long walk from the Public Garden all the way down to the Waterfront or a simple stroll in my own neighborhood. With smartphones, I rarely carry a camera with me anymore, except on special excursions where I bring my Sony DSLR. Still, even with my phone, I often take pictures of the simplest and occasionally most profound things I’ll spot while walking around my city.

Ten Tropical Trips

2011 – St. John

Ten years ago this month, I took my first trip to the Caribbean. Steve, whom I would marry in 2013, suggested it for a winter vacation. I’d never been outside continental North America at that point; the Virgin Islands (and in particular, St. John) were a revelation.

2012 – Curaçao

The following year, we went further south to Curaçao, in the Lesser Antilles, 65 km north of Venezuela. The snorkeling and beaches weren’t as fine as St. John’s, but being in the Dutch Caribbean felt even more exotic than the US Virgin Islands.

2013 – Key West

Seven months before our wedding, we stayed within the continental US, but just barely, driving from the Miami airport all the way to the edge of the Florida Keys.

2014 – Naples, Florida

Having honeymooned in Santa Fe, we resumed our annual winter vacation in the more affordable locale of Sanibel Island, Florida, with day trips to nearby Naples and Fort Myers.

2015 – Turks and Caicos, Chalk Sound

However, we longed to return to the Caribbean, so the following year brought us to Turks and Caicos, where we spent a week on the island of Providenciales, featuring the otherworldly hues of Chalk Sound.

2016 – Cozumel, Mexico

We’d been wanting to check out Mexico for some time; the week we spent in Playa Del Carmen was crowded, noisy and burnt by the sun, but the afternoon boat ride to Cozumel Island was pretty chill.

2017 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Always seeking out new locales to explore in the Caribbean, we made it to the Dominican Republic a week after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration–dark times temporarily alleviated by Punta Cana’s beaches.

2018 – Aruba

We went to another of the Lesser Antilles, Aruba, in 2018. Steve had gone there with his folks a few times as a child; it was pretty (particularly the beaches and the trade winds soaring through them) but a little overdeveloped for our tastes.

2019 – Turks and Caicos, Iguana Island

We had such a great time in Turks and Caicos that we returned four years later; this second trip’s highlight was a snorkeling expedition to Iguana Island (which indeed did have quite a few of its namesake, though not in this pic.)

2020 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Last year, before the pandemic shut everything down, we went back to Punta Cana, this time to Bavaro Beach. Obviously, we are staying put in frozen New England this January. Although I long for another tropical excursion, I feel lucky I’ve been able to have ten of ’em so far. In the meantime, I can always turn up the heat at home, craft a few frozen cocktails and dream.

Autumn Color

Autumn is my favorite time of year, mostly for the changing leaves and a brief respite of coziness and relative warmth before it gets too cold to do much outdoors except for getting from one place to another.

The foliage isn’t as robust as in past years, thanks to an ongoing lack of rain over the warmer months.

Fortunately, that does not mean no color at all.

The park near my house in early October is not without at least one burst of red.

Those three trees in the background never fail to transform at least one small section of the park’s landscape every Autumn.

However, for the most part, a burnt, somewhat dingy orange predominates this year.

Granted, this hue is more or less the norm for the tall trees at the edge of my backyard.

On one of my periodic, two-to-three mile neighborhood walks, I spotted this brilliant yellow, made even more striking by the blue of the house next to it.

To see ample colors in one place, however, I had to visit Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

On the third Sunday in October, I spent an afternoon there, seeking out as many seasonal shades I could find.

Walking around Mt. Auburn, I was not disappointed. Robust reds, bright oranges, sparkling yellows were all around.

I’m not a religious man, but parks, cemeteries, woods–any kind of green space is the sort of place my soul thrives in.

I remember driving out to Kettle Moraine North in Wisconsin with my parents when I was four or five, collecting pretty fallen leaves to place into a construction paper album.

I held onto that album for most of my childhood, no matter how brown and crinkly the leaves turned.

For those few bright red maple trees I see around Boston, I think fondly of the street I grew up on, which was lined with them. There was a particularly big one in front of our house–I can recall the impossibly massive piles of leaves my dad would rake from everything that fell onto the front yard, the sidewalk, even the street.

Within weeks, the trees will once again be bare. However, I’m genuinely optimistic for the first time in four years. The trees will bud again come April or May, hopefully stronger than ever before as we begin to heal and nourish our collective soul.

This Year’s Garden

When I moved into my current home four years ago, the best thing the former residents left behind was a garden box in the backyard. Overgrown with weeds and spaghetti-like remnants of long-forgotten plants, I thought to myself, “It’s too late in the season, but next year, I can do something with this.”

May 27

Since then, I’ve cultivated a garden each summer. Growing up, I used to love helping my mom out with her garden–basically two narrow strips, one alongside the house (where we always planted tomatoes); the other next to the garage (chives, radishes and a catnip plant we could never fully exhume.)

June 28

Figuring out what works here has been a matter of trial-and-error. I knew I wanted tomatoes, and put in three plants the first year. Since I’m the only one here who eats them, I went down to two plants last year and only one (a cherry tomato) this year. Marigolds tend to always be bountiful; for 2020, I also put in two of each of the following: blue lobelias, red salvias and multicolored lantanas (the latter were the only real duds.)

July 4

I also tried out a six-pack of multicolored zinnias, which I did not expect to get so tall.

July 16

The zinnia’s flowers, however, were worth their domineering overgrowth.

July 24

I was concerned about the cherry tomato at first; it was a brash Home Depot purchase at the height of quarantine and took awhile to get going. Fortunately, it came through as the zinnias bloomed.

August 30

By August 30, the garden was at its peak. When I planted it back in May, it was by far the most therapeutic activity I had partaken in since quarantine commenced, reminding me why I liked to garden and what serenity and spiritual refreshment I got out of it.

A red zinnia up close.

Fresh cherry tomatoes, a side dish fit for almost every occasion.

Jalapeños–I also planted another type of chili pepper this year (can’t remember the exact name) that, left unpicked turns nearly candy apple red, becoming *extremely* spicy.

September 20

After Labor Day, I began taking out the zinnias one by one as the flowers lost their petals and brilliant colors. Close to the Autumn Equinox, I replaced them with three gelosias (red, purple and orange) and a hearty pink-and-green coleus. Somewhat late in the season, but I appreciated what they added to the tableaux.

October 17

As of this weekend, the garden is in its last throes. The cherry tomato is mostly dead, though I refuse to remove it until it stops bearing fruit. Marigolds and peppers are still plentiful; the coleus turned out to be not so hearty after all. Considering potting the rosemary (in the rear left) for the winter.

July 20

I’d rather remember this year’s garden for its summer brilliance–particularly that one early evening when it attracted a bluebird.

York Harbor and Wiggly Bridge

A few weeks ago, prior to a socially-distanced dinner with friends in Kittery, Maine, we made a pitstop in nearby York Harbor.

Slotted in between York Village and York Beach, York Harbor neither has much of a charming Main Street (the former) nor gift shops, restaurants and sandy beaches beholden to tourists (the latter.)  It’s mostly residential and thus much quieter.

We actually met up with my parents for a mini-vacation near here a dozen years ago this month, but haven’t been back since. We must have explored this marina then, although I barely remembered it.

Boaters will know exactly what this doohickey’s for; I just admire the contrast of its colors and textures against the deep blue sky.

For me, it’s not a trip to coastal Southern Maine if I haven’t taken at least one photo of a hanging buoy.

On that mini-vacation I might’ve made a joke about this directed towards my Mom, but in all seriousness, I wasn’t aware crabbing was a thing here; I mostly associate Maine with lobsters and oysters.

I enjoy taking pictures of little dinghies–the junkier, the better.

Early Autumn in Maine can be quite lovely.

This is along the North Basin of York River.

Glance to the West and you’ll see this bridge, Route 103.

Looking West on Route 103 before the bridge…

…and on the bridge, where one can spot another, decidedly tinier bridge in the distance:

The Wiggly Bridge is famous enough to have its own Atlas Obscura entry. This I remember from that mini-vacation.

Looking straight-ahead across Wiggly Bridge back towards Route 103.

To the right of Wiggly Bridge, it’s Barrells Millpond.

About 45 minutes before sunset.

Above and below: a narrow path from Wiggly Bridge back to Route 103.

So long, you can barely make out Wiggly Bridge in the distance.

And, if you walk past Wiggly Bridge in the other direction, you’ll find this serene beauty.

Toronto, 2005

In normal times, I’d be in Toronto for TIFF. I am currently attending the modified “virtual edition” of it, but it’s not the same as being there in person. My last TIFF was in 2014 (see here and here) and I’m overdue for a return (just not this year, naturally.)

I’m thinking a lot about my first TIFF, 15 years ago. Earlier this summer, going through a slew of CD-Rs full of photos from the Oughts, I found one disc I didn’t know I had from that trip. I believe this was right before I acquired my first digital camera, so these pix are among the last I ever took with my old, trusty point-and-shoot (before it unceremoniously died.) Above is McCaul Street and the ever-distinct OCAD University building.

I’m certain I saw more films at the Paramount (now ScotiaBank) Theatre than any other venue that year, thus spending much time around this nearby stretch of Queen Street West. Club Monaco and Steve’s Music (not pictured) are still there, but I’m guessing not much else is.

My first TIFF was also my first time in Toronto (and Canada, for that matter). Although I managed to see 16 films in five days, I also made time for sightseeing. Here’s Spadina Avenue in Chinatown…

…and nearby Kensington Market. Above is a stretch of Kensington Avenue; I don’t seem to have a shot of Augusta Avenue, where I just had to seek out the building used for exterior shots in the cult sitcom Twitch City.

Back in 2005, I found Toronto City Hall fairly ugly; now, I appreciate its mid-century modern splendor. It’s sleeker than Boston’s Government Center, anyway.

University Avenue. I retain fond memories of getting iced coffee from Second Cup along this stretch and being puzzled that the straws available for use had no paper on them (particularly shocking in 2020.)

Further up University Ave: Queen’s Park, and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

I was lucky enough to visit Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street before it closed.

I stayed at a bed and breakfast over on Jarvis Street, across from Allan Gardens, pictured here. (Please ignore the (incorrect) time stamp.)

I was amused to see a bar/restaurant named after my hometown in Toronto at 220 Adelaide Street West. It’s long gone (as of 2007, according to Google Maps.)

I don’t recall if I went up the CN Tower back then (I know I did in 2009.) Anyway, here’s a bit of Old (the smokestack), New (the glassy high-rises) and Mid-Century Toronto (along with a seabird.) I look forward to seeing it all again, maybe in 2021.

Sunday At The Cranberry Bog

Looking for a new COVID-safe activity (preferably one outdoors), we checked out a cranberry bog last week.

The Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog, as a matter of fact–located at Patriot Place in Foxboro, of all places, directly behind the Bass Pro Shop.

It consists of a half-mile trail that takes one through some woods…

…and voilà! A cranberry bog. Though mid-July is decidedly not cranberry season.

However, it was the kind of pastoral, sparsely-attended space we were looking for, along with less than a dozen other mostly socially distanced attendees (including multiple dog-walkers.)

Someone even left behind a rosary.

A river runs through this hidden, lovely space.

I enjoyed the numerous textures on display. Particularly all the lily pads:

We’ll be back to the bog in Autumn for the foliage and presumably, some cranberries.

Short Sands Sunrise

Fourteen years ago today, I watched the sunrise in York Beach, Maine.

My parents had flown out from Iowa and we had driven up from Boston for a few days to celebrate the 4th of July.

It was my mother’s idea to awaken so painfully early to witness a sunrise. The previous morning was our first attempt, where we ended up at the Long Sands Beach. Unfortunately, we faced the wrong direction.

Thus, the next day, with great strain (I’m not much of a “morning person”), we tried it again, this time at the Short Sands Beach near the center of town. Bingo.

If you ever have the chance and gumption to watch a sunrise, I recommend it. I haven’t seen such brilliant hues in the sky before or since.

I’ll attempt another sunrise someday, when I’m in the right place and frame of mind. For now, I’ll always remember and treasure this one.

P-Town Scenes

Normally, I’d be in Provincetown this weekend for their annual film festival; I’ve missed it only twice in the last fifteen years. I’ve gone to P-Town in Winter, Autumn and Spring, but Father’s Day weekend (falling near the Summer Solstice) always means PIFF.

As with my New York essay, I thought in these crazy times it’d be therapeutic to look back at some P-Town pix I’ve taken over the years. Above is a 2010 view of the town (the tall building is the Library) and MacMillan Pier from the ferry dock. Traveling there by sea from Boston is highly preferable to doing so by land (and shorter!)

From the same year: a banner for the 12th PIFF (with the Library in the background.)

The heart of Commercial Street, P-Town’s main thoroughfare. Lined with restaurants, gift shops, bars and other tourist attractions, you can drive (one-way) along it, but IMO it would be so much better if you couldn’t.

Town Hall, 2018. At the 20th PIFF, nature provided a serendipitous backdrop for the unveiling of an AIDS memorial.

Town Hall at New Year’s Eve, 2016. P-Town does not entirely shut down for the off-season.

A restored Library, sometime after 2010. I used to joke that the restoration dragged on forever, but I now admit it was worth the wait.

Arch Street, one of dozens of narrow, mostly residential roads that link Commercial Street to its adjacent neighbor, Bradford Street/Route 6A.

P-Town has its share of colorful signage, first and foremost being the vintage red neon of The Lobster Pot.

With signage less flashy but still distinct, Utilities is a kitchen/bathroom store where one can find everything from a teakettle to a shot glass. With its densely but neatly packed shelves and show tunes playing overhead, it’s the type of local gem you wish would stay open forever.

Of course, not everything in P-Town endures. This long-standing, curiously-named restaurant bit the dust sometime in the last decade, although the space lives on as Liz’s Cafe/Anybody’s Bar.

Other businesses pop up for a few summers before quietly disappearing, like Blue Light, which later became Blondie’s Burgers; it has now housed The Canteen for over five years.

Over on the West End: who doesn’t appreciate signage so straight to the point?

Back near the center of town: this whimsical warning also lets people know they’re just around the corner from Napi’s Restaurant, a year-round P-Town institution.

One of Napi’s restrooms; the other one is marked “Or.”

Some signage is fleeting, as seen days after a certain, infamous tweet in June 2017.

The town part of P-Town provides only half of its allure. Located on the tip of Cape Cod, water surrounds it on three of four sides. Above, a beach right in town (if not an ideal one for swimming.)

Another beach a little further along the coast: have you ever seen such a schizoid sky?

If you walk far West enough, this is what you’ll find: Bradford Street’s end, with the dunes, Herring Cove and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond.

Coastal land far more suitable for beaching and swimming.

North of town, the Province Lands contain miles of biking trails running around the dunes.

Wood End Lighthouse, often the first sight of P-Town from an incoming ferry.

We return to MacMillan Pier at what is undoubtedly the “golden hour” for photography.

MacMillan Pier is lined with these cute little shacks. Founded centuries ago as a fishing village by Portuguese immigrants, you can spot their flag proudly flown all over town.

That tall, narrow building is the Pilgrim Monument, the most iconic feature of the town’s skyline.

The Provincetown Causeway in the West End, October 2012. Until we meet again, P-Town…

Unique New York

I’ve been to New York City at least a dozen times in the past two decades. Since another visit right now is out of the question, here are a few favorite pics from those trips. Above is a view of West 23rd Street taken from the High Line in 2013.

Given how massive (and ubiquitous) NYC is, I’m eschewing landmarks for selected obscurities teeming within this metropolis. This tunnel, one of many in Central Park, may be my most recognizable image from here on out.

Manhattan architecture is a caustic mixture of old and new (and Duane Reade stores.)

A typical block in the East Fifties that could be just about anywhere in Manhattan.

This block’s much more distinct: MacDougal Alley in Greenwich Village, not too far from Washington Square Park.

Even less fancy corners, such as Avenue A and East Third Street in the East Village are marked with such oddities as this zigzag-bricked building.

Despite all-encompassing gentrification, remnants of old New York hang on, like this ancient supermarket on the Upper West Side…

…or this established-in-1950-and-miraculously-still-looks-it steak joint on the Upper East Side.

Took this in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 2006. The business has since closed but the sign remains, sort of.

21st Century signage in NYC doesn’t have to be dull or uniform, as seen at the Soho outpost of this five-store chain.

However, clever can only take you so far: my gut reaction at first seeing this in 2015 was, “OH NO THEY DIDN’T.”

This cleverness I can appreciate, given my folks were Des Moines-ers for twenty years.

This sign is still my favorite ever spotted in NYC: April 2006, on Broadway in Soho.

Over to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, six months later. There’s something funny about a “Teabag Variety Hour” that I’m guessing the proprietors of this establishment never intended.

Over to the Bowery and Spanjer Signs on Chrystie Street (enhanced by some whimsical graffiti) in February 2012.

In terms of attitude, this pic from the West Village circa 2007 might be the New York-iest of them all.

Well, this jalopy found a parking spot; god knows how long it’s been left there.

My last couple of trips to NYC have included dinner at Lilli and Loo, a cozy, bi-level pan-Asian restaurant in Lenox Hill.

Around the corner from Lilli and Loo, May 2014. I just love the exaggerated, lackadaisical posture of the guy in the middle: Candid New York, if you will.

In my opinion, one of the city’s most beguiling oddities, spotted at the John Derian Dry Goods store on East Second Street in 2017. Half Carol Channing, half Buster Brown?

Thankful I thought to take a pic of Gonzalez Y Gonzalez restaurant and its gaudy, giant sombrero back in 2009 because this location is long since gone (though relocated sans hat on the exterior.)

El Quijote, a venerable Spanish restaurant next to the Chelsea Hotel, is also now gone (and sadly has not relocated.) Took this pic of one of their typically ancient menus on my last visit there in 2015.

I was last in New York about three years ago for the funeral of my closest friend who lived there. After the service, my husband and I took a restorative walk around Stuyvesant Square Park where I spotted this tableau: like a mighty stone fortress emerging from the flora, providing hope that through all the inevitable changes in a city like New York, some things remain and appear indestructible.

I leave you this pic from Greenpoint, October 2006: Endless Brooklyn. I hope someday to return to this maddening, magnificent metropolis.