Commuting with kids in Boston

I’ve hesitated to write anything on this blog from a parenting perspective since I’m such a novice parent, but after 17 months as Daddy I think there’s one issue I can write about and maybe actually be helpful:  commuting with kids.  Or one child at least.  My son Peter has been riding the T since he was three weeks old and for the past seven months he & I have made the daily commute from Jamaica Plain to Allston where he goes to child care and I go to work.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurence.
Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurrence.

Riding the subway to bring Peter to child care has many obvious advantages: save money, save gas, reduce auto exhaust pollution, et al.  Developmentally I think it is also much more interesting for Peter.  He could sit in a car seat in the back of a car (facing backward before he turned one) and have not much to do for half an hour, or ride the subway for 45 minutes where he gets to watch and interact with numerous people and read books and play with toys with Dad.   Turns out, Peter loves the T.  He loves to wave and say hi to people, and especially has fun making faces at other children on the T.  I find myself in conversations more often with my fellow passengers as well, who often seem delighted by a little boy in this grown-up world of commuters.  In fact, if I were a single dad I don’t think I’d be one for long because Peter particularly likes to flirt with women. Mostly, I enjoy the company.  It’s a lovely way to begin and end each work day spending time with my little boy.

Stroller vs. Carrier

One of the first things to consider when taking children on public transportation is how to carry the child.  A carrier of some sort – a sling, frontpack or backpack – can be a good option.  On a crowded subway it’s definitely the sleeker option less likely to create a hindrance for other passengers.  Plus one can take full advantage of the stairs and escalators instead of looking for the often hidden, sometimes broken elevators.

When Peter was very little my wife and I carried him in a Maya sling and it worked quite well.  When he got bigger I tried a backpack and liked it for all the reasons mentioned above.  One day I noticed women taking pictures of us with our cellphone as I stood hanging on to a strap with Peter on my back.  I turned my head and saw that Peter was also holding a strap which made us so photogenic.  Unfortunately there were downsides to the backpack as well.  Peter was constantly losing his hats, gloves, and shoes or his nose would get runny or some other problem that was difficult to address without taking off the pack.  And taking off and putting on the pack on a moving train is not a safe or easy thing to do.  I was also constantly afraid I was going to whack some other passenger and/or Peter when moving in tight spaces.  Throw in some back problems and the back pack was not for me.  A front pack of some sort may make a better option and will definitely be something to look into for a future child.

So I use a stroller, a sturdy not overly-large MacLaren.  The stroller takes a load off my back and makes it easier to see that Peter is all put-together as well as interact to play with toys, read books or just hold hands when we’re tired.  Unfortunately, the stroller can be a bit bulky and get in people’s way, and I’m afraid I’ve run over more than one set of toes trying to steer it in tight spaces.  Sometimes on the Red Line in the morning I have to let a train (or two!) pass by because they are just too crowded for me and a stroller to fit.  This is why I loved the Big Red seatless cars but apparently they’re not running them anymore.

Riding the elevators adds a bit of time to the commute and they’re  not always in the most intuitive locations.  For example, if riding the Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree and wanting to transfer to the Orange Line to Forest Hills, one must get off at Park Street and walk down the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing.  Heading the other way, one must exit the turnstiles at Downtown Crossing, walk down the Winter Street Concourse, reenter the turnstiles at the other end and take the elevator down to the Red Line (makes me wonder if a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a Charlie Card link pass to have to pay to get back in, which doesn’t seem to fair).  This actually isn’t all that inconvenient just not the most obvious route to make a transfer.

Overall, once I’ve learned where all the elevators are and the best spots in the car to go with the stroller (all the way at the end so I don’t get in the way of aisle) I think the stroller has been very positive for me and for Peter.  As I mentioned above most of the other passengers seem to be very welcoming to an infant on the T, and often people offer me a seat.  That’s one courtesy I never expected anyone to share with burly, 6’1″ man in the pink of health!

Problems and Potential Pitfalls

While my commuting experience with Peter has been overwhelmingly positive there are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Other passengers – My greatest fear going into this is that I would encounter people who would find Peter too noisy, too distracting, or otherwise too bothersome to their commute and they would let me know about it in no uncertain terms.  Blessedly this has not happen as people have been mostly friendly and helpful or at least hold their tongue.  One grandmotherly type actually read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to Peter and a young man told me Peter was the highlight of his day. There was one occasion when Peter was five months old when a woman told me that T was too dangerous and I should get a car (which defies logic since automobile crashes are a leading cause of death in the US).  Even though that was upsetting, she actually said it in a way that made it seem that she thought she was being helpful.  I’ve yet to meet the truly nasty person on the T which makes me more trustful of my fellow humans.  Still, I worry because of
  • Meltdowns – For whatever reason – because he likes other people, hanging out with Dad, or the soothing rhythm of the rails – Peter is usually pretty happy when we’re on the T.  But he has his bad days.  He particularly doesn’t like it when the subway car gets overly crowded and like many a commuter he complains when there are delays.  One morning he had a complete meltdown while we were stuck for an interminable amount of time between Central and Harvard and I had to contend with trying to soothe him and worrying about how he was affecting the other passengers.  Stressful to say the least. All babies cry, and there’s no foolproof way to prevent this, but I believe distraction is the key – have toys, teething rings, books, or anything the child loves on hand.  Sometimes with Peter it’s as simple as turning the stroller in a different direction so he has someone else to look.  Again, other passengers are my friends offering a silly face or a tissue during my times of need.
  • Buses – The subway is very workable for commuting with a stroller but I’ve all but given up on the bus.  The narrow aisle on the newer models leaves nowhere to put a stroller out of the way, and folding up the stroller and holding Peter isn’t very feasible either.  Perhaps with a less active child that might work.  Route 66 especially is a nightmare.  Route 39 has a nice spot for strollers in the bendy section, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get down the aisle to that point when it’s crowded.

So that is my experience commuting with a child on the T.  I hope the suggestions are useful to any other parents out there.  If you’re thinking about taking the T with your own children and wondering if it’s worth the hassle, I say go for it.  I find it rewarding in ways I never imagined.  If you have any questions or suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments or email me at liamothemts AT gmail DOT com.  I’d particularly like to hear from parents about their experiences with an older child or with multiple children on the T.

Book Review: The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims

The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (2006) by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Joan Chittister, OSB, and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti tells the scriptural stories of Abraham and the conflict that rages between the peoples descended from his two sons, Jewish from Isaac and Islamic from Ishmael. The book begins with two tellings of Abraham’s journey, one from the Jewish scriptures and midrash and one from the Quran.  Toward the end of the book there is a combined account that acts as a guide for beginning to find common ground.

The heart of the book is where each of the authors takes turns writing interpretations of Abraham’s journey from the perspective of their religion.  These take the form of series of short, interelated essays both on scriptural studies and the current crisis among the Israelis and Palestinians.  These essays can be very beautiful and insightful as well as educational offering new takes on Abraham’s story in the Bible and the completely new-to-me Islamic telling of Abraham’s story.  Rabbi Waskow has an interesting take on Abraham being the most dangerous person in the lives of his two sons: one he banished into the desert  the other he tried to sacrifice. Both would have died if not for divine intervention.  Sr. Joan reflects on many conferences of Israeli and Palestine woman working to end the killing of all their children.

The appendices of the book include resources for “pitching your own tent” and working toward peace among the peoples of all three faiths as well as some related essays by other authors.

Favorite Passages

When either community mourns the death only of those on “its side” who have been killed by those on “the other side,” the outcome is often more rage, more hatred, and more death.  If we can share the grief for those dead on both “sides,” we are more likely to see each other as human beings and move toward ending the violence. – p. 59-60, Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Now, thousands of years later, Israelis and Palestinians are locked in mortal battle over the precise measurement of whose land is whose.  The painful attempt not to be cheated is, ironically, cheating both of them out of peace and fellowship and trust. And all the while, it was  precisely Abraham’s decision not to invoke his right as the elder to chose the land that would be his.  It is a painful lesson lost.  The even greater concern is that unless both peoples discover that less can be more, the more their rights they get – unlike Abraham, who was willing to trust the soul of the other – the poorer in spirit they will all be.  – p. 97, Joan Chittister

A human being is capable of holding vastly different and paradoxical points of view at the same time.  We seem to have so many different voices within us, and our motivations are often unconscious.  So simply nodding in agreement is no guarantee that I will act the way I intend. … So I find myself called not to more thoughts but bigger thoughts and feelings accompanied by real action, based on the experience of a greater reality we all share. – p. 132-33. Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti

Book Review: Consistently Opposing Killing edited by Rachel M. McNair and Stephen Zunes

Consistently Opposing Killing (2008) edited by Rachel M. McNair and Stephen Zunes collects together essays and interviews focused on the Consistent Life Ethic.  This is a movement that opposes killing in any form: abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and unjust as war as well as promoting economic justice to end poverty, opposing racism, and seeking peaceful solutions to conflict. In addition to the editors, contributors include Mary Meehan, Michael Nagler, and Vasu Murti ,   Many of the authors refer to the Consistent Life Ethic as the “seamless garment,” a term originating with Cardinal Joseph Bernadin whose work is cited often by the contributor but not included in this book.  Bernadin’s lectures A Consistent Ethic of Life (1983, pdf) and A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue (1984) can be read online.

This book really hits home with me. When I was younger and developing my political and moral identity I was drawn to liberalism since it focused on standing up for the underdogs and the defenseless and opposing the things that damage and destroy life: civil rights, civil liberties, social safety nets, health care, opposing poverty, rehabilitating prisoners instead of executing them, opposing unnecessary war and nuclear proliferation, and seeking alternatives to violence. You can imagine my surprise that opposing abortion was not a liberal cause. I’ve become something of a political pariah in that liberal people who share many similar views to my own but support of legal abortion seems to be the one non-negotiable issue for acceptance in their ranks. On the other hand I’ve little political common ground with conservatives and often find their rhetoric and strategies for opposing abortion repellent. The authors in this book share similar experiences. Conservatives call them a bunch of peaceniks and commies. Liberals call them misogynist, racist theocrats.

These essays trace the history of the consistent life ethic (did you know that the link of feminism and pro-choice politics is a relatively development) as well as providing studies on Americans views on life issues.  Abortion is a central theme of many essays where it’s linked or compared with poverty, racism, the Israel/Palestine conflict and animal rights.  The better essays come toward the end of the books where the contributors propose consistent solutions with the essays by Meehan, McNair and Zunes being particularly moving.

One quibble I have with this book is the oft-referenced idea of the slippery slope.  Many contributors contend that those who support a legal right to abortion are likely to also support infanticide and euthanasia of the disabled and elderly.  This just doesn’t jibe with pro-choice people I know and public figures who are active and compassionate supporters of the needs of children, the disabled, and the elderly.

This book is one that should be read by anyone regardless of their political bent.  I’m sure there’s stuff in here that anyone will disagree with and will make them angry, but most of all what I find in this book is hope.  Hope that people can go beyond the battle lines of the so-called “culture war” and find common ground and solutions that will bring an end to the killing and degradation of human life.

Favorite Passages

“Many people with serious moral qualms about abortion but not wanting to unwittingly promote a reactionary social agenda therefore remain silent.  This is also a poor strategy.  The timidity of many progressives with antiabortion sentiments to speak out has led to much of the movement becoming dominated by right-wing opportunists who oppose abortion for the wrong reasons,” p. 35 – from “Israel/Palestine and Abortion” by Stephen Zunes.

“Even unconscious people, who do not have anything on that list, offer us an extremely valuable service.  As long as their lives are protected, people seen as most on the margins, the the rest of us are safe.  Those on the edge of the social fabric guard it and keep it from unraveling.  The first step on the slippery slope is not taken so there is no slipper slope,” p. 61 – from “When Bigotry Turns Disabilities Deadly.”

“The thread of respect for life, woven among these issues, is not visible in the public forum, where political ideologies dominate the analysis.  Traditional liberals favor goverment intervention to “support life” by improving the opportuinities available to the poorest members of society, but oppose legal limits on issues deemed to be matters of private morality.  Traditional conservatives attempt to reduce government intervention in the economy, but promote legal restraints to protect vulnerable human life.  Each perspective both shares and disuptes some of the policy mandates that flow from the consistent ethic of life,” p. 75 – from “Does the Seamless Garment Fit?” by Edith Bogue.

“Most people, myself included, when you look at a complicated problem start off by seeing where your friends are.  Because you trust them.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Your friends are honorable and intelligent people, and you consult them to see what they believe in.  But that turns into a camp or culture of the Right or a camp and culture of the Left, nor based on real thinking or real dialog — just a desire to move with your particular herd.  Us against them, which arouse the most pleasurable, pervasive, and vile passions,” p. 107 – from “Activists Reminisce,” a quote from Juli Loesch Wiley.

Relevant Links:

Old South Meeting House: Behind the Scenes

This week Old South Meeting House opened it’s doors for an open house for people who work in the tourism industry to see behind the scenes in the historic church.  As a Boston By Foot guide, the offer was extended to me and a I jumped at the chance especially since it meant I’d be able to stand on the pulpit, walk around the balconies, and climb up the steeple – all off-limits to regular visitors.  That’s nirvana for the history geek.  I should note too that I’ve long found Old South to be one of Boston’s best history museums.

Behind the Scenes at Old South Meeting House photo album

The eagle atop the Simon Willard Gallery Clock has a great view of the pulpit.
The eagle atop the Simon Willard Gallery Clock has a great view of the pulpit.

Old South dates back to 1729 built on the site of a previous meetinghouse building and the congregation worshiped there until moving to Copley Square in 1872.  In addition to religious services it served as a space for large public meetings, most famously the meeting that launched the Boston Tea Party in 1773.  Old South survived abuse by British soldiers who stabled their horses inside during the Revolution and a close shave with the flames of the Great Fire of 1872.  In 1876 it become the first building in New England (and fourth in the nation) saved by a historic preservation effort.  In the past century it has continued to operate as a meeting space and a free speech zone where many dissenting opinions have been voiced over they years.

A beautiful, curving stairwell in Old South Meeting House
A beautiful, curving stairwell in Old South Meeting House

On Friday night I explored this building from bottom to top, starting with the unaffiliated bookstore in the basement.  Inside the hall of the meetinghouse, OSMH staff gathered together my fellow tourism industry folks and I and delivered a short lecture on the history and architecture of the building.  Then we were let loose to explore.  I started by going to the balcony and joining a tour of the steeple.  Inside the steeple it’s dark, dusty, and the stairways are crooked with low headway.  We went up one level to the site of the most significant library in colonial America, where Reverend Thomas Prince collected thousands of books.  Some were destroyed by the vindictive Redcoats but many still survive in the Rare Books collection at Boston Public Library.  Up a few more levels and we’re in the belfry although the bell itself long ago moved to Copley Square’s Old South Church.  Finally we reach the top.  For safety reasons we couldn’t go on the balcony but were able to peek out the door for a unique perspective on Washington Street and the surrounding skyscrapers.

Peeking through the steeple railing at Washington Street below
Peeking through the steeple railing at Washington Street below

Down below, I explored both balcony levels and the many elegant stairwells of Old South.  I also availed myself to the opportunity of taking the pulpit and pretending I am a Puritan minister preaching a 4 hour sermon from high above the congregation. All in all it was a great time and fulfilled all my history geek desires.  Thanks to Robin DeBlosi and the rest of the Old South staff for letting us come in and play.  Check out all of my pictures from last night’s event online.

Calling down fire & brimstone on the sinners in the hands of an angry God
Calling down fire & brimstone on the sinners in the hands of an angry God

If you haven’t been to Old South Meeting House or haven’t been in a long time, it’s worth checking out.  The musuem is opened daily throughout the year from 9:30-5 (April-October) and 10-4 (November-March).  Admission includes the history of the church and Tea Party, The Voices of Protest exhibit about free speech over the centuries, scavenger hunts and an audio program.  The new Patriot’s Pass offers combined admission to Old South and The Paul Revere House for just $8 adults, $2 children.

100 Favorite Books of All Time (10-1)



I’m nervous about making this post as now I have to declare to the world what are my ten favorite books of all time.  I fear I’ve forgotten something important or I’m revealing too much about myself.  Certainly the little blurbs I have describing these books are inadequate to describing their greatness.  As I’ve mentioned before, this ranking is not a scientific enterprise.  When determining the rank I decided that twelve different books could be number one, so really books 1-12 are a tie or have very small increments between them.  The rest of the hundred or so books are in 4-5 tiers of clustered ranks.

So for better or worse, here are my top ten favorite books of all time.

10    The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’ve read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories in my life, including many not written by Conan Doyle and I’ve loved them all.  In a high school production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” I portrayed Watson.  I loved the Jeremy Brett series of Sherlock Holmes adventures.  So one day back in 200o I decided to read every single Conan Doyle story  back-to-back.  I was richly rewarded and think everyone should read all of Holmes’ adventures at least once in their life.  It’s great to see Conan Doyle’s story evolve and the friendship of Holmes & Watson that is the heart of the

9    In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz

This book is an absolute classic of historical archaeology literature. Deetz examines what small, seemingly insignificant artifacts can tell us about the lives of people of the past and complement — or even contradict — what is missing from the written historical record. My favorite chapter on the evolution of headstones in New England cemeteries and how their evolution reflects changes in religious belief.  I also once met the author, a larger-than-life historical archaeologist, on a tour of Flowerdew Hundred in Virginia.

8    The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde

I’m cheating again, because I’m not recommending just one book, but a whole series of five (and counting) books about the Special Operations agent Thursday Next.  She lives in an alternate universe of England in the 1980’s where people love literature so much they need a police unit to prevent book crimes, where time travel and regeneration of prehistoric creatures is commonplace, and the Crimean War never ends.  The books are full of literary allusions yet they are also the most original thing I ever read.  And also  very, very funny.  So if you’re into detective/sci-fi/literary/satirical/humor books, I guarantee you can’t go wrong.

7    Jazz by Toni  Morrison

This is a complex novel in which story lines are repeated and improvised much like a jazz piece. It’s also a unique novel in which the book itself is the narrator.  It’s fun to read both for its creative style, interesting storytelling, and even its humor.  I also have fond memories of writing a kick-ass paper for a college course in which I found a quote from Morrison that proved me write and my professor wrong.  Very satisfying.

6    Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

A magnificent novel in which the mundane, the everyday are given great significance. It’s a work of art that beautifully illuminates humanity and human relationships. It also makes for a good walking tour as I have fond memories of the day my wife and I spent following Clarissa Dalloway’s footsteps through London.

5    Song of Solomon by Toni  Morrison

So there are two Toni Morrison novels in the top ten, and the thing is, there  probably should be more.  She’s that good.  This novel is about many things including people learning to fly, and more importantly about the protagonist finding his “people” and place in the world.  This also is one of the more accessible Morrison novels so I recommend it if you’re reading her work for the first time

4    The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

I haven’t read a more honest novel about the experience of being a teenager, one’s childhood slipping away and the realities of adulthood losing their luster when you realize things are more complicated than the grown-ups ever told you.  This is a really moving and funny story of Holden Caulfield running away and wandering aimlessly around New York for a couple of days that change him, and the reader, forever.

3    The Once and Future King by T.H. White

This is the absolute best modernist adaptation of the Arthurian legend. Written in the context of the Second World War, White offers a commentary on the extremes of humanity: peace, beauty, and love versus war, treachery, and hatred. If you’ve seen the Disney film “The Sword and the Stone” adapted from the first book of this work, dismiss it from your mind. White’s novel is a deeper, darker and thoroughly more rewarding work.

2    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I read this book in three different courses in college and it got better and more revelatory with each reading. The story is a journey of awakening of Janie from her childhood through three marriages, through joy and tragedy, and ultimate self-realization.

1    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I have a feeling that people are going to get to this point and think that this is just like listening to the top 100 songs of all time on the classic radio station only to hear “Stairway to Heaven” at number one.  Again.  What can I say about this book?  It’s probably the best canidate for the Great American Novel.  It’s a novel about awakenings, growing up, the racial divide in America, and the core of humanity.  Among other things.  And that only begins to explain why it’s the best book I’ve ever read.

So that’s it.  I hope you enjoyed this list and get some good reccomendations out of it.

If you liked reading this list, I ask that you take a moment to write a comment below and include the name of one of your favorite books of all time.

Beer Review: Victory Old Horizontal

Beer: Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine Ale
Brewer: Victory Brewing Company
Source:  12 oz. bottle
Rating: **** (8.5 of 10)
Comments: Picked up a six pack of Victory Old Horizontal Ale today and find myself pretty impressed.  In the glass, this beer is a dark red, cloudy with lots of carbonation and a thick, thick head.  The aroma gives off hints of citrus and oddly watermelon.  The citrus in the flavor as well mixed with a strong but not overpowering taste of alcohol. Leaves a sticky, caramel feel on the tongue with a tasty, lasting aftertaste.  Went very well with the Indian dinner we ate tonight.

Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part IV

“The Cyclops”

Perhaps the most complex and bizarre episode yet.  An unnamed first person narrator, clips of seemingly random text written in different styles.  What is this ridiculous list of names in the style of a saga other than a good laugh?  Ah, but is the true hero here a pint of Guinness?:

Terence O’Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.

Then did you, chivalrous Terence, hand forth, as to the manner born, that nectarous beverage and you offered the crystal cup to him that thirsted, the soul of chivalry, in beauty akin to the immortals.

But he, the young chief of the O’Bergan’s, could ill brook to be outdone in generous deeds but gave therefor with gracious gesture a testoon of costliest bronze. Thereon embossed in excellent smithwork was seen the image of a queen of regal port, scion of the house of Brunswick, Victoria her name, Her Most Excellent Majesty, by grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British dominions beyond the sea, queen, defender of the faith, Empress of India, even she, who bore rule, a victress over many peoples, the wellbeloved, for they knew and loved her from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the pale, the dark, the ruddy and the ethiop.

On a serious note, there’s some nasty anti-Semitism in this chapter and poor Bloom shows that he’s too good a man compared to the “citizen.”  Harry Blamires has a great explanation of the Cyclops in The New Bloomsday Book:

For though the events are recounted by a nameless narrator, the narration is punctuated by a series of commentaries in vastly different styles – but each style an inflated caricature of the legal, the epic, the scientific, the journalistice, and so on.  The total effect is to set the gentle, pacific, charitable Bloom in lonely opposition to a barbaric, bigoted, and aggressive nationalist – and likewise to place Bloom’s mildness and commonsense in lonely isolation within a world given over to vast excesses.  The intemperate inflations represent many aspects of culture, many movements in our civilization, that are irrational, violent or prententious.  The fact that the reader, as well as Ulysses-Bloom, feels swamped under it all is appropriate and of course intentional. – p. 112

A recent podcast of WPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” contains a performance of Shylock’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice (ACT III, Scene I:48-68).  I could not help but notice the parallels between this monologue and Bloom’s defense against the Citizen.  Since Ulysses is full of allusions and discussion of Shakespeare I can’t imagine that Joyce didn’t do this on purpose.  Am I on to something here?

Then it all ends like this:

When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: ELIJAH! ELIJAH! And He answered with a main cry: ABBA! ADONAI! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe’s in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel.



More excess with no substance.  This time the episode is from the perspective of a young woman Gertie Macdowell who Bloom watches on the beach at Sandymount.  The reader sees her thoughts, fantasies of love tainted with consumerism.  All of the language is very pretty, especially compared with the ugliness of “The Cyclops.”  But it’s almost too pretty, sentimental and silly.  Here’s a passage I liked that is typical of the episode:

How moving the scene there in the gathering twilight, the last glimpse of Erin, the touching chime of those evening bells and at the same time a bat flew forth from the ivied belfry through the dusk, hither, thither, with a tiny lost cry. And she could see far away the lights of the lighthouses so picturesque she would have loved to do with a box of paints because it was easier than to make a man and soon the lamplighter would be going his rounds past the presbyterian church grounds and along by shady Tritonville avenue where the couples walked and lighting the lamp near her window where Reggy Wylie used to turn his freewheel like she read in that book THE LAMPLIGHTER by Miss Cummins, author of MABEL VAUGHAN and other tales. For Gerty had her dreams that no-one knew of.
She loved to read poetry and when she got a keepsake from Bertha Supple of that lovely confession album with the coralpink cover to write her thoughts in she laid it in the drawer of her toilettable which, though it did not err on the side of luxury, was scrupulously neat and clean. It was there she kept her girlish treasure trove, the tortoiseshell combs, her child of Mary badge, the whiterose scent, the eyebrowleine, her alabaster pouncetbox and the ribbons to change when her things came home from the wash and there were some beautiful thoughts written in it in violet ink that she bought in Hely’s of Dame Street for she felt that she too could write poetry if she could only express herself like that poem that appealed to her so deeply that she had copied out of the newspaper she found one evening round the potherbs.

There are lots of contrasts in the chapter: Gertie’s idealized dreams of marriage and family compared with the bratty children her friends are caring for, Gertie’s pure beauty compared with Bloom’s foreign mystery, and throughout it all sex and religion.  The religion in the sounds and smells of the retreat at the nearby church.  The sex in the aspect of this section that makes it creepy and unsettling: all this time Bloom is playing with himself and Gertie is putting herself on display for him.

Yeck!  It’s a long fall from Bloom the biblical hero of “The Cyclops” to Bloom the dirty old pervert.  In the previous episode, the citizen is prejudiced against Bloom for his foreignness but Bloom proves to be noble.  In this episode, Gerty finds Bloom’s foreignness attractive yet now he seems dangerous.

Blamires has this take on it:

The ideal-real dichotomy is again a theme implicit throughout this episode, for Bloom’s purely visual relationship parallels his purely verbal relationship with Martha.  The disintegration represented in Bloom’s partial relationships with Molly, Martha, and Gerty seems to reflect a Joycean judgement on modern life. – p. 137

“Oxen of the Sun”

Oh dear, the famous episode in which the English language gestates before the reader’s eyes is before me.  Full of literary parody that goes way over my head because I’ve never read the originals.  The basic gist is that a group of unruly medical students and other men drink and speak crudely while Mrs. Purefoy struggles through labor for the third day in a nearby room.  Only Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus see this as disrespectful and try to turn the conversation to be appropriate to the moment.  For this they are both isolated and symbolically drawn to one another.  Sprinkled throughout are references to fertility and cattle (tying it to the Odyssey).

I am drawn to this passage although I’m not quite sure what it means:

The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence: silence that is the infinite of space: and swiftly, silently the soul is wafted over regions of cycles of generations that have lived. A region where grey twilight ever descends, never falls on wide sagegreen pasturefields, shedding her dusk, scattering a perennial dew of stars. She follows her mother with ungainly steps, a mare leading her fillyfoal. Twilight phantoms are they, yet moulded in prophetic grace of structure, slim shapely haunches, a supple tendonous neck, the meek apprehensive skull. They fade, sad phantoms: all is gone

That’s all for this update.

Here is the Ulysses reference of this week.

Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade

Today Susan, Peter & I attended the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holyoke, MA which is the second largest parade in the country after New York.  I’m something of a connoisseur of St. Patrick’s Day parades having gone to New York almost annually growing up, South Boston a couple of times in the late 90’s, and the Dublin extravaganza in 2002 so I’ve been meaning to check out Holyoke for some time.

I have to say I was impressed.  The parade was typical of St. Patrick’s Day parades in featuring lots of firefighters, police, military personnel and pipe & drum bands among its participants.  Oh how I love pipe & drum bands!  There was a strong local feel as high school marching bands and community groups from Holyoke and surrounding municipalities enthusiastically participated as did at least two high school hockey teams who claimed to be 2009 state champions.  What was really great about the Holyoke parade is that St. Patrick is not exclusively Irish as many participants and spectators represented every culture and ethnicity that lives in the area.  One of my favorite floats featured steel drums and was sponsored by a Puerto Rican community organization.

As I posted on St. Patrick’s Day, I have fond memories of attending the NYC parade as a child so it was fun to watch how my 16-month-old son Peter enjoyed the parade.  At first he seemed confused by the whole thing but he soon got into the swing of things waving at the participants, clapping and dancing to the steel drums.  A good number of military personnel, firefighters, police, and even the American Red Cross came over to shake Peter’s hand.  If this is typical of the attention a cute kid can get at a parade, no wonder I have fond memories of my own childhood.

At the Mass Pike rest area McDonald’s on the way home, we talked with a local couple who spoke enthusiastically about the parade, even if they feel the weather is not always the best.  The woman remembered seeing the then Senator John F. Kennedy up close and personal and admiring his handsomeness.  The man told us he marched in the parade in the 1970’s.  It’s clear to me that Holyoke has a good tradition for celebrating St. Patrick’s and I hope to witness it again in future years.

Mission: Boston

With the first day of spring upon us and Boston officially thawing out, it’s time to get out and do something!  There are many things to do and sites to see right near home that I always find a way to procrastinate, some for several years running now.   Here are ten things to do in metro-Boston that I’ve never done before that I would like to do between now and Thanksgiving.

  1. Finally visit The Museum of Bad Art in Dedham
  2. Tour an old house like the Loring-Greenough House in JP, the Gibson House Museum in Back Bay,  the Nichols House Museum in North End, the Shirley Eustis House in Roxbury and/or the oldest of them all the James Blake House of Dorchester.
  3. Walk through the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library.
  4. Check out the new Institute of Contemporary Art.
  5. Check out the view from the observation deck on the Customs House tower.
  6. Walk the African-American Heritage Trail.
  7. Get back to nature at the Boston Nature Center. (completed 5/25/09)
  8. Take in a vintage baseball game, preferably on Georges Island.
  9. Sample the beers at the Samuel Adams Brewery Tour.
  10. Commune with the fuzzy pigs at Drumlin Farm. (completed 8/26/09)

Of course, I’d like to get out of town and do some things outside of Boston as well.  Here are five things in greater New England that I’ve never done before that I’d like to do in the same time period:

  1. Watch the second largest St. Patrick’s  Parade in America in Holyoke, MA. (completed 3/22/09)
  2. Journey through a world of art and culture at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA
  3. Get my public transit geek on at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME (completed 6/21/09)
  4. Visit the literary landmarks of Hartford, CT: the Mark Twain & Harriet Beecher Stowe houses
  5. Stroll around historic Providence, RI and perhaps witness WaterFire.

If I do any of these things, I will of course blog about it here.  Come join me if you want to do these things too!

100 Favorite Books of All Time (20-11)

Heading into the stretch run.



20 Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh

An excellent and thoughtful book on the spiritual parallels among the Buddhist and Christian faith traditions. Reading this book actually encouraged me to resume going to church at a time I wasn’t going. Hanh’s writing on the beautiful mystery of the Eucharist was especially moving.

19 Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler

Mahler revisits the tumultuous year of 1977 in New York City focusing on the clashes between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo in the race for mayor, and Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson for dominance over the New York Yankees. In addition to this Mahler captures the essence of the city in politics, SoHo art galleries, punk rock, Studio 54, and the Son of Sam murders. The book moves along in illuminating if episodic chapters until the devastating central section where in clipped, police report style prose Mahler recreates the horror of the blackout of 1977 and the looting and arson that erupted in Bushwick and other neighborhoods. 1977 is a transformative year in New York history (and its hard to believe all of this happened in the same year), and definitely the moment when New York hit rock bottom. I found myself oddly nostalgic reading this book. Not that I miss the widespread violence and hopelessness of the time, but the names and places remind me of the old New York of my childhood and the good things that were lost in the yuppification of 80’s and 90’s.

18 Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks

As the title suggests this is a story about a man making a circuit accompanied by a refrigerator. The odd premise was born in a drunken bet, and Hawks makes the best of it with a hilarious travelogue. Few books make me laugh out loud and this one made me chortle, chuckle, and explode with laughter on each page. It must be read to be believed.

17 Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella

Kinsella was one of my favorite authors growing up and this is one his best books. Adapted into the wonderful film “Field of Dreams”, the book is even better including a more thorough back story, JD Salinger, and the oldest living Chicago Cub! Plus no one tops Kinsella’s voice for baseball magic realism.

16 Watership Down by Richard Adams

I stayed up all night reading this book instead of studying for my Calculus final my Freshman year at college. I failed the Calculus test but was totally mesmerized by the fantastic yet realistic world Adams creates for his rabbits. This is a great adventure and a wonderful story of life.

15 We Can’t Eat Prestige: The Women Who Organized Harvard by John Hoerr

The history of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, founded in the 1970’s and built on feminist principles. This books follows the epic quest of the organizers to gain acceptance and help the workers have a voice at the university. Finally, after 17 years the union is approved in a dramatic vote. 4800 members strong, the HUCTW is a model for the 21st-century union, one that works for problem solving and the respect and dignity of everyone in the workplace. Harvard works because we do!

14 Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This graphic memoir captures the funny and touching life story of the author where she tells of her eccentric family and draws parallels to literature and social movements of the time without being one bit pretentious.

13 The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs

This book could’ve been a mean-spirited parody of religion, or an insufferable diatribe of the true believer but it works so well because the agnostic Jacobs tries so hard to be faithful to his quest and respectful to those who follow the Bible, even when realizing some of its great absurdities.  There’s a lot one can learn from this book about religion and religious as well as the non-believer and really all of humanity in this very human book.

12 To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I read this book in college and while I don’t remember the details now, I do remember the feeling of beauty and insight in what may be Woolf’s best novel.

11  The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This excellent novel is both disturbing and inspiring as it tells the story of Celie, a young black woman who grows up in abuse and subjugation but is able to find love, independence, and an awakening of her own creative self. Compared with the movie, the book is much more detailed and nuanced and deals with lesbian themes the movie only hints at. On the other hand, parts of the novel seem a bit contrived, like Nettie’s letters. Still this is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

Next Friday I’ll count down the <gulp> top ten favorite books of all time!