City Stories #1 – The Pigeons


City Stories is a new semi-regular feature where I will write short expository pieces and vignettes inspired by cities I’ve lived in and visited in various places of the world. This series is inspired by the writings of Max Grinnell, The Urbanologist. The first City Story takes place in Bay Ridge, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

My grandparents lived in the most boring place in the world.

Correction, my grandparents’ apartment was the most boring place, set in the middle of the world’s most exciting and vibrant city in the world.  My grandparents’ apartment was on the 23rd floor of the western building of the Towers of Bay Ridge, right where the Belt Parkway splits from the Gowanus Expressway.  My sister and I spent many a childhood weekend seeking some escape from the boredom that permeated from every corner of that apartment, including through the plastic-covered sofa.

As a child visiting this apartment – especially when it wasn’t Christmastime when at least there were new toys to play with – entertainment was hard to come by.  Television was the preferred source of diversion, but it wasn’t always available to us as my grandparents were watching their programs, or otherwise forbidden us from watching. Taking out the garbage was always a welcome chore as it meant being able to drop bags of rubbish one by one down a chute to a compactor in the basement.  After disposing our trash, we could keep the door to the chute open and if we were lucky we could see trash falling from higher stories and take the chance of trying to catch some.

Once these options were exhausted, my sister and I diverged on what to do next.  She often ended up in our uncle’s former room, excavating old issues of Mad magazine that were still piled in his closet.  I made my way to the terrace – what my grandparents called the small concrete balconies that clung tenuously to the brick facade of the Towers.  From here I could get a view of  New York City’s famous skyline, bridges, and even a tiny green dot I knew was the Statue of Liberty. I could also see a massive bus yard, where half-concealed by a building, I got a tantalizing view of what looked like red London-style double-decker buses, but could never verify for sure if that’s what they were. *

Eventually, one of our grandparents would have to take us outside. If it was our grandmother, we would typically end up in the Tower’s playground. The centerpiece of this playground was a geodesic half-dome one could climb up and dangle by one’s knees, knowing that should one fall, one’s head would be protected by a thin layer of rubber spread over the asphalt.

I always preferred it when our grandfather took us out. We would escape the Brutalist hellscape of the Towers for a stroll into the more human-scaled row houses and shops along Third Avenue. Our destination was The Three Jolly Pigeons. In the official nomenclature of restaurateurs, The Three Jolly Pigeons is classified as an “Old Man Bar.” True to form, the Pigeons (as my grandfather always called it) featured a long bar of a dark wood with a line of rickety stools, lots of oak paneling, and stained glass windows and light fixtures. The back room was separated from the main bar by a particularly attractive wood-panel and stained-glass partition.

My grandfather was an old man so naturally an “Old Man Bar” suited him. But I’m going to tell you something about my grandfather that I didn’t know. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and a particularly troubled one at that. One of my earliest memories of him was visiting the hospital after he crashed his car on Brooklyn Bridge. The “car crash” and “drunk driving” didn’t connect for me until years later. Children were not allowed to visit the patients’ rooms, so instead we stood outside waving at the window where purportedly my grandfather was waving to us. I was never quite sure that I actually saw him or was even waving at the correct window.

The stories I would later hear of his drunken anger and violence never matched the cuddly old man who’d bring us to this lovely oasis, buy us a glass of Coke, and give us quarters for the arcade games that we could enjoy while he spoke to his bookie. Yes, this is the other thing that I didn’t know at the time. It was not normal for one’s grandfather to regularly meet with a bookie, and I’d learn later that the other adults in our family were not aware of this habit. This is probably because he never said to anything like “Don’t tell anyone I’m seeing my bookie,” because then we totally would’ve ratted him out rather than going along as if it were normal.

But let’s return to those glasses of Coke and arcade games. The Coke was dispensed from a fountain over the rocks into a small glass. I can’t verify this, but it is my belief that the Coke served at the Three Jolly Pigeons was the best tasting Coke anywhere. The bartender would set our Cokes at the end of the bar for us to pick up and from there we made out way through the partition to the back room.

The entertainment equipment in the back room changed from time to time, but the mainstay was a coin-operated bowling game. The shuffleboard-style game was built on a long waist-high table (or shoulder-high table if you were under ten) along which one would slide a heavy, metallic puck. The bowling pins hung from a cabinet at the far end, and the puck wouldn’t actually come in contact with the pins, but you could knock them over if the puck slid over what looked like giant staples under each pin. The surface of the table was very slick and one could make the heavy puck move wickedly fast, smashing into the wall at the far end with a satisfying crash, and rebounding into one’s palm.

Over the years, I got very good at this game. Fueled by Cokes and quarters, I smashed my way into the ranks of shuffleboard bowling greats. Or so I’d like to imagine. I never saw another game like this until about a decade later while in a pub in St. George, Bermuda. I challenged my compatriots to a game and drawing on my skill honed at the Pigeons, I won a round of beer. In another timeline, I may have gone pro as a shuffleboard bowler.

In my memory, it was always daylight when we went to the Pigeons. The late afternoon sun shone through the stain-glassed windows with the multi-color rays tinted by smoke and dust in the air. I can still see the silhouettes of my grandfather and his bookie sitting across from one another at the table by the window in a mostly empty bar. But there’s one occasion I recall being at the pigeons after dark and in a crowded room, on the day after Thanksgiving when the sun sets early. I’ve never paid much attention to college football, but while waiting for another Coke at the bar, by chance I happened to look up at the tv to see Doug Flutie’s famous “Hail Mary” pass. There was some celebration among the assemblage of old men and I before they returned to their beers, and I returned to bowling.

Unlike many places from my childhood for which I have fond memories, the Three Jolly Pigeons still survives in Bay Ridge. Reading the reviews online, it’s hailed as a great place to see rock bands and karaoke, two things I could never imagine in the Pigeons of my time. But I like to think that in the dying rays of afternoon sunlight, the old men still gather to nurse a quiet drink, confer with their bookie, and perhaps buy a Coke for their grandkids.

 

 

* Seriously, this was decades before double-decker buses were used for sightseeing tours in New York City. If anyone could verify if and why these buses were in New York circa 1980-1984, I will love you forever.

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2018 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon #BAT2018


On Sunday, June 10th, my daughter Kay (a.k.a. “The Toothless Wonder”) and I rode in the Bikes Not Bombs 31st Annual Bike-A-Thon.  The ride helps raise funds for Bikes Not Bombs’ social justice programs in Boston and abroad.

We met our goal for fundraising (including for my son Peter who was not able to participate), but Bikes Not Bombs is still accepting donations if you wish to contribute.

It was a beautiful day to ride, and except for the steep uphills right at the beginning, it was a terrific ride.

 

Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 201320152016, and 2017.

Movie Review: Coco (2017)


Title: Coco
Release Date: November 22, 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Coco is a delightful animated film by Pixar that weaves in the traditions of Día de los Muertos to a celebration of family and music. Miguel is boy in a family of shoemakers who loves the music of the local legend Ernesto de la Cruz, and wishes to pursue making music of his own.  The problem is that his family has banned music for several generations after his great-great-grandmother and his great-grandmother Coco (then a child) were left behind by great-great-grandfather seeking a music career. What follows is a wonderful adventure where Miguel accidentally travels to the Land of the Dead (depicted humorously as a bureaucratic parallel to our own world). with the help of a  bumbling skeleton named Hector, Miguel seeks to return to his own world and get his family’s blessing to play music, learning a lot about his family in the process.  There are some unexpectedly dark parts to this film – maybe not what would scare a young child in a movie full of skeletons – but nonetheless very serious material for a family film.  Visually it’s splendorous and I enjoy the wide ranges of expressions given to the skeleton’s bony faces.  Definitely another terrific addition to the Pixar catalog.

Rating: ****

Sponsor Us for the 2018 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon #BAT2018


It’s once again time to get back in the saddle for one of my favorite events of the year, the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon.

Bikes Not Bombs is a social justice organization based in Jamaica Plain, MA not far from where I live. Their goal is to use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change.  The accomplish this mission by:

  • collecting and renovating bicycles to ship to developing communities in Central America, the Caribbean and Africa. These bicycles help people meet crucial transportation needs with an easily maintained and environmentally friendly vehicle.
  • help Boston youth develop confidence and leadership skills through programs focusing on urban bicycle riding and bicycle repair.

I routinely get my bike repaired and by bicycle supplies at the Bikes Not Bombs shop in Jamaica Plain, and I’m always impressed by the positive impact they have in the community.  Especially when I see young people out on their Boston By Foot group rides.

Here’s how you can help:

This is our sixth time participating.  Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 201320152016, and 2017.

TV Review: Hunter Street (2018)


Title: Hunter Street
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 20
Summary/Review:

My son encouraged be to binge watch this Nickelodeon tv series about a family of foster children in Amsterdam who solve mysteries in Amsterdam.  As a child of the 80s, I can’t help be reminded of “The Bloodhound Gang.”  The mystery of “Hunter Street” is leavened by cornball comedy.  I think if you just read the script it wouldn’t really seem all to well written, but the kids in the cast of this show just ooze charm and are eminently lovable.  Plus every episode ends on a massive cliffhanger so you just have to keep watching.  We’re going to have to track down season one now that we’ve finished this binge.

I find it curious that although everyone involved in creating this show is from the Netherlands and the show is clearly set in Amsterdam, they went to a lot of effort to make the show for “export.”  The characters all speak English even when it would make sense for them to speak Dutch, the kids wear bike helmets, the police read a Miranda warning, and a thermostat shows the temperature in Fahrenheit.

“Hunter Street” is good family television.  Check it out.

Sponsor Us for the 2017 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon


On Sunday, June 4,  I will be riding with my kids Kay and Peter in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon!   The Bike-A-Thon is always a fun event and it raise money for a terrific cause. This will be our fifth time participating.

Based in Boston not far from where we live, Bikes Not Bombs serves two great purposes. First they collect and renovate bicycles to ship to developing communities in Central America, the Carribean and Africa. These bicycles help people meet crucial transportation needs with an easily maintained and environmentally friendly vehicle. Secondly, they help youth right here in Boston learn skills such as urban bike riding and bicycle repair that contributes to building their confidence and leadership skills. Please help us in our efforts by making a generous donation!

Here’s how you can help:

Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 20132015, and 2016.

 

Book Review: So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary


Author: Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary
TitleSo Close to Home
Narrator: Elijah Alexander
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, 2016
Summary/Review:

The severity of the German u-boat campaign on American ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in the early days of World War II is often overlooked.  Tougias and O’Leary tell that history through the story of the Downs family of Texas as they sail on the cargo ship Heredia from Costa Rica to New Orleans.  The ship is destroyed by torpedoes on the May 19, 1942, and the Downs family are separated in the wreck, each having their own survival journey along with some members of the crew.  It’s a very gripping tale, but Tougias and O’Leary have a bigger story to tell based on the records of u-boat captains and the crews who were big heroes in Nazi Germany.  This means that the Downs’ story is broken up by long sections about the u-boat warfare in general and the experiences of their crew.  Perhaps the Downs’ story was too thin to make a book of its own, but the approach taken here makes the narrative very uneven.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting glimpse into an overlooked period in American history.

Recommended booksUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Rating: ***

Father’s Day x 10


Today I officially celebrate my tenth Father’s Day. My oldest child is only 8 1/2, so you may wonder how that’s possible, but in June of 2007 when my wife was five months pregnant she presented me with this on Father’s Day. So that makes this my tenth celebration of Father’s Day as a father.

I have two children now and neither one of them has ever declared their delight in my library profession (or in archives and records management, where I’ve worked since 2008). This is okay as that’s probably not going to win them many cool points.  I do love Father’s Day though.  As someone with a birthday in late autumn it’s nice to have a summery day to celebrate on,  and my children always make me feel special.

Before I had children, I was concerned that I might not be a good father. This is partially because I’m an anxious person in general and partially because I did not have the best example in my own father. He was prone to anger and was abusive. He worked long hours and traveled a lot, so as a child I could go long hours without seeing him. When I was 8 my parents separated permanently and then were divorced. Around the same time my dad began suffering the effects of a particularly debilitating version of multiple sclerosis and so in my later childhood my sister and I would visit him in the nursing home and need to help him with simple tasks. He died when I was 17.


I do have good memories of my father. While its cliche, we watched sports together on tv and he took us to many games and it formed a nice bond. He also took us on trips to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and California and helped spur my love of travel and visiting museums and historic sites. Despite being a Nixon Republican, he got us the Free to Be .. You and Me album, which probably informed my young political identity. Most importantly, he wasn’t one of those men who couldn’t express their emotions and frequently told me “I love you.”

So in November 2007, this happened

and now I was a dad!  There have been some challenges – lack of sleep, a constantly messy house, a near end to “alone time,” and temper tantrums – but being a father is overwhelmingly positive

 

Since it’s my tenth Father’s Day, here are ten great things about being a father:

  • Hugs – there is no shortage of physical affection for a dad, and my kids are some of the best huggers around
  • Shared interests – it’s fun to see the kids taking an interest in doing things I love to do like watching sports and visiting historic sites (just like my dad!) or riding bikes and visiting zoos
  • Their interests – it’s also fun to see what the kids become passionate about.  My son became a fan of Magic 106.7 and thus I learned that Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and Pitbul actually have some good songs.  My daughter likes comic book heroes and movies and thus I’ve caught up with the rest of the world a bit on what this whole Avengers thing is about.

  • Children’s books – name a classic children’s book and there’s a good chance I didn’t read it as a child, because even though I was a bookish nerd, I focused on history and biography. Fatherhood has given me a second chance to read for the first time Goodnight Moon,Where the Wild Things AreHarold and the Purple CrayonThe Snowy DayAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and a whole bunch of Beverly Cleary books, plus many more.
  • Children’s tv – don’t tell the Gen Xers who share memes about how great childhood was in the 70s and 80s, but children’s tv is a lot better today than it was then.  I’ve enjoyed watching many shows with my kids including Bob the Builder, Curious George, Shaun the Sheep, Dinosaur Train, Paw Patrol, The Magic School Bus, Clifford, Thomas and Friends, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mighty Machines, Doc McStuffins, and that old standby Sesame Street. Plus, my kids have shown only a passing interest in the annoying Dora and Diego shows, so we dodged that bullet.
  • Kid’s eye view – it’s wonderful to see things from a new perspective where things like riding the MBTA can be an adventure.  Plus, on a recent visit to the zoo, I literally got down to my daughter’s eye level and saw some birds I wouldn’t have seen from my tall daddy perspective. They also can bring a spectacular imagination to the mundane.

 

  • Play – oh the kids love to play, and while I may complain of being tired and achy, I love to play with them.  In backyard baseball, I discovered I was suddenly able to throw and catch a ball, at least with a small child.  And bathtime can be an adventure involving the activities of many toy sea creatures.  Pretty much anything can become a game. And when I’m really tired, climbing on a prone daddy can still be fun, so I can still be involved.
  • The introvert advantage – so get this, I go to a social function and I don’t have to talk about myself or justify my existence to anyone, I can just talk about the kids.  And when I’ve had enough of the adults, I can just leave them and go play with the kids!  Who knew that being a father could be an antidote to social anxiety?
  • Watching them grow up – every age has its wonders and both kids were unspeakably cute as babies, and while I miss a lot of what they were like when they were little, I continue to be amazed by watching them grow and learn and create identities for themselves.  I think it will only get better.
  • Kindness – at a baby shower someone asked me what I hoped for my son and I replied “I hope he is kind.”  I stand by this, and it warms my heart when I see my kids helping out at home, school, or church, when they try to take care of us when we’re down, when they show concern for the less advantaged, and especially when they are kind to one another, overcoming that sibling rivalry.

So that’s my tenth Father’s Day post, and I’m looking forward to many more.  To all the dad’s out there, as Ralph Kiner would say, Happy Birthday.  And to all of those who are missing their dads or never had dads they could miss, you’re in my thoughts.

Sponsor Us for the 2016 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon


Hey!  Just want to share this again since the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon is this Sunday!  You still have time to sponsor us and/or sign up to ride yourself!

On Sunday, June 5,  I will be riding with my 8-year-old son Peter in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon!   The Bike-A-Thon is always a fun event and it raise money for a terrific cause. This will be o…

Source: Sponsor Us for the 2016 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon

Sponsor Us for the 2016 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon


On Sunday, June 5,  I will be riding with my 8-year-old son Peter in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon!   The Bike-A-Thon is always a fun event and it raise money for a terrific cause. This will be our fourth time participating.

Peter with his 2015 Bike-A-Thon finisher’s medal.

Based in Boston not far from where we live, Bikes Not Bombs serves two great purposes. First they collect and renovate bicycles to ship to developing communities in Central America, the Carribean and Africa. These bicycles help people meet crucial transportation needs with an easily maintained and environmentally friendly vehicle. Secondly, they help youth right here in Boston learn skills such as urban bike riding and bicycle repair that contributes to building their confidence and leadership skills. Please help us in our efforts by making a generous donation!

Here’s how you can help:

Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 2013, and 2015.

Photopost: Giving Thanks for Nature and the Senses at Drumlin Farm


We spent the day after Thanksgiving at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.  There were a number of art and music activities for the day to engage the senses, but the kids were content to make their usual round of visits to the farm animals, taking a hay ride, and then a hike up the Drumlin.

It was a perfect day for it!

Related Posts:

Book Review: The Happiness of Kati by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Thailand
Author: Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva
Title: The Happiness of Kati
Publication Info: New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006.
Summary/Review:

Kati, a nine-year-old girl lives with her grandparents and dreams of her mother who left five years earlier.  Finally, it’s revealed that her mother has ALS and is close to death.  The separation from her mother seems cruel, but it is obvious there’s a lot of love in this family.  They are reunited for Kati’s mother’s last days, a time where Kati learns a lot about her family.  Before dying, Kati’s mother tells her how she can contact her father who she has never met.  The final chapters detail Kati’s choice to seek out her father or not.  This is a touching novel, written from a perspective that realistically portrays the way a child views the world and deals with difficult issues like death.

Recommended booksThe Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer and The Book Thief by Markus Zusakd
Rating: **1/2

The 44th Annual Christmas Revels


The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge are annual family tradition.  My first Revels experience was in Washington in 1996.  After moving to the Boston area, the Cambridge Revels were an annual event from 2001-2006.  We missed the show in 2007 due to a newborn, and in 2008 due to a blizzard, but have been regular attendees since 2009 (that same year I actually sang in the chorus!).  So, I calculate that I’ve seen 13 different Christmas Revels performances.  Each year is delightful and surprising in its own way.*

This year’s Revels is set in Victorian England, with music halls and the Crystal Palace playing center stage.  The first act shows two teams of buskers competing on the streets of a Northern England town as the Crystal Palace manager Harry Colcord and composer Arthur Sullivan seek an alternate performer after a cancellation.  In the usual Revels’ way, everything comes together as the buskers join forces to create a performance of music, tricks, and a “panto” of Cinderella.  The second act is treated as a command performance at the Crystal Palace (complete with life-size wooden cutouts of the royal family in the mezzanine).

Highlights of the show:

  • comic busking performances by Marge Dunn, Billy Meleady, Mark Jaster, and Sabrina Selma Mandell
  • singing a round of “Row the Boat, Whittington”
  • David Coffin’s solos on “It Was My Father’s Custom” and on the melodic “Christmas Bells at Sea”
  • the sing-a-long and acting out of “When Father Papered the Parlour”
  • the “Panto” of Cinderella, which while not a true Panto (oh no it isn’t!), we did get to shout “Don’t touch Billy’s eggs” several times
  • And of course, the Revels traditions of “Lord of the Dance” (and dancing out into the lobby), “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Shortest Day,” and “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.”  Unfortunately, the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” was conspicuously absence in this year’s performance.

There are five more performances from December 26-28, so if you’re in or near Cambridge, get a ticket and go!

* I also recently discovered that the Revels website has a list detailing the theme of every performance from 1971 to present.  Now I need to discover time travel technology so I can go back in time and see each and every one.

Related posts:

Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


AuthorJhumpa Lahiri
TitleThe Lowland
Publication Info: Knopf (2013)
ISBN: 9780385367431
Summary/Review:

Lahiri’s novel, like many of her works, deals with Indian expatriates assimilating to life in the United States and coming to terms with their past in India.  The Lowland tells the story of two brothers Subhash and Udayan.  While Subash leaves for America to study in Rhode Island, Udayan is drawn to the Maoist Naxalite movement.  The Lowland is also about a woman named Gauri who is connected to both brothers.

A big spoiler here, but after Udayan is killed by the police, Subhash marries the pregnant Gauri and takes her to Rhode Island to help her escape living with her oppressive in-laws.  The marriage built on expediency cannot sustain and the desires of Subhash and Gauri to pursue their own goals and carry on in their lives with the memory of Udayan drive the conflict of the narrative.  It is in many ways a quiet story with a lot of the passions tempered under placid exteriors and one that offers a sympathetic but not nonjudgmental look at each of the characters.


Rating: ***

The 43rd Annual Christmas Revels


This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the  performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia.  As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me.  The largest drum resonated throughout the house.

The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre.  Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).

Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre.  The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.

Highlights of the show include:

  • the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
  • the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
  • O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
  • sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
  • puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
  • an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
  • Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
  • a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.

There were some disappointments.  Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly.  Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.”  It ended just as we reached the lobby.  While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!

The Boston Globe has a more-detailed review for your perusal.

Related posts:

Photopost: New York City


Ch-ch-ch-ch-cheerio!
A tugboat chugs under Brooklyn Bridge

I spent the first week of September with my 5 y.o. son Peter and my mother (later joined by my wife and daughter for the last weekend). Three generations of family explored the City which has rich family history.  My mother grew up in the Bronx and I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs and now we got to share a lot of our favorite places with Peter.  But there were also new discoveries.  Through Airbnb, we stayed in an apartment in Inwood, the neighborhood at the very northern tip of Manhattan.  Inwood is vibrant and friendly with a great park and easy connections to the rest of the city on the 1 and A trains.

Sssssssssalute.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge
  • Day 1 – We visited the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, ate lunch at a deli in Brooklyn Heights, played on the spectacular playground on Brooklyn Bridge Parks’s Pier 6, and then sailed up the East River on a ferry to Midtown.
  • Day 2 – Went to the the Bronx Zoo.  We stayed all day.
  • Day 3 – Walked along the Hudson River to visit the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge.  Read the book and attracted a crowd of toddlers. Spent the rest of the day at Central Park where we: ate ice cream, ate hot dogs, played on the swings, took a nap, played catch, rode the carousel, and sailed a model boat on the Conservatory Water (Peter got very good at controlling the wind powered boat).
  • Day 4 – Visited the USS Intrepid Sea/Air/Space Museum, the highlight of which was getting up close and personal with the space shuttle Enterprise.
  • Day 5 – Ate brunch at Kitchenette Uptown in Morningside Heights, took Peter to Yankee Stadium to see the Red Sox play the Yankees (Red Sox won), and ate supper at the wonderful dog-themed pub Fred’s.
Ahoy, captain!
Sailing a model boat on the Conservatory Water.

I’ve made a web album of my favorite photos from the trip, in addition to the ones featured in this post.

Take the A Train!
The view out the back of the A train.

Related Posts:

The 42nd Annual Christmas Revels


It would not be Christmas without the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.  This year my wife, son and I joined by our friends Abby, Kim, & Sid took in the Winter Solstice performance on the evening of December 21st.  The show was delightful as always with the subject being near and dear to my heart, the music of Irish emigrants as they sail the new world.

The show was a more restrained and simple performance than a typical Revels keeping to the theme of the cast being impoverished immigrants aboard a ship and not having much to celebrate with.  After the opening number, lines and gangways were removed from the sides of the stage and notably no cast members went down the steps into “the ocean” except during a storytelling sequence.  These restraints did nothing to detract from the beauty of the song, dance, and stories performed.

Highlights of the show for me included:

  • Bill Meleady’s colorful telling of The Soul Cages, the exception to the restraint on the performance where the visuals of the story come to life in vivid detail.  I enjoyed the dancing crustaceans especially as well as Steve Barkhimer’s portrayal of the merrow Coomara.
  • “The Wexford Lullaby” gorgeously performed by Mary Casey along with Jamie Jaffe as a duet and later as a quartet.
  • The dramatic “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” swelling as the audience joins the chorus.
  • “The Lord of the Dance” is always a highlight and was cleverly worked into the show as being the English ship crews’ contribution to the shipboard celebration.
  • The show had several sets of traditional Irish music by The Rattling Brogues and step dance by O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance that livened up the proceedings greatly.
  • If there was one minor disappointment is that the show ends with the immigrants seeing The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  The show is set aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Carpathia and since Cunard had a western terminus in Boston (there’s still an office building marked “CUNARD” on State Street) it would have been a nice local connection to have the ship dock here instead of New York.

A traditional element of the Revels – “The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” – was not included in the program but as this was the Winter Solstice, the audience was treated to a special rendition of Abbots Bromley after the curtain call.  I’d actually guessed that Abbots Bromley was the surprise we’d been promised before the show, but it was still a thrill when the first haunting notes of the recorder came out and the audience reacted with joy.

This was another great Revels and I believe all the shows were sold out.  If you missed this year’s Revels, make sure to get your tickets early for next year’s show which I promise will be just as great.

[youtube http://youtu.be/_tfCs4A1BPQ]

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Singing in the Fall


In the coming months I will be singing thrice weekly with a variety of organizations.  It looks like it will be a lot of fun, although maybe a challenge for time commitments as well with rehearsals starting this week.

For the first time, I will be singing with the Mystic Chorale.  The fall concert Pastures of Plenty – Woody Guthrie at 100 will take place Saturday, Nov 17, 8:00pm and (my birthday!) Sunday, Nov 18, 3:30pm at Tremont Temple in Boston.  I’m looking forward to singing songs written and inspired by one of my all-time favorite persons.

My son and I will also once again be performing with SingPositive, JP.  This multi-generational, family chorus will be making our sophomore outing with a concert themed on Optimism in Hard Times on Sunday, December 16th, 4pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain.  If you are looking for a musical, community experience, I definitely recommend looking into SingPositive which is branching out into other communities in the Boston area.

Finally, my daughter and I will be attending regular classes of Music Together at the Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain.  There’s no performance with this one but it may be the most fun.  I enjoyed singing with my son when he was little and look forward to repeating the experience and introducing my baby girl to music and rhythm.

This post is partially shameless self-promotion to get you to come out to my performances, but I also hope that anyone looking for opportunities to sing and perform music in the Boston area (with or without children) will see this post.  I highly recommend all of these organizations and suggest you check them out and get involved if you’re interested.  If you know of any good singing and music activities in the Boston area, let me know in the comments.

The 41st Annual Christmas Revels


This afternoon my family and I took in the annual performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge.  The Revels is a family tradition and this marks the tenth Christmas Revels production I’ve attended (including a Washington Revels performance in 1995 and performing as a cast member in the 2009 Christmas Revels).  This was also my four-year-old son’s second Christmas Revels and my five-week-old daughter’s first Revels ever.  Peter showed exemplary behavior and was deeply engaged by the performance while Kay amazed me by actually appearing to watch the show at times when she wasn’t feeding or napping.

The Revels impress me each year by crafting a show around a theme with consistent narrative that logically incorporates music and dance from various traditions.  This year’s production is set in a French fishing village on the Mediterranean that is hosting an annual feast that draws pilgrims from near and wide.  Thus we are able to enjoy traditional music from France and other parts of Europe as well as traveling performers from the East playing Arabic music.  The Sharq Trio steal the show with sets in both acts of Arabic singing, dance and percussion.      The trio seemed to mesmerize my infant daughter at the very least.  Salome Sandoval also lends her stunning voice as a soloist.

The center of the performance is three members of the Guild of Fools – Soleil (Timothy Sawyer), Etoile (Sabrina Selma Mandell), and Eclaire de Lune (Mark Jaster) – performing the annual pageant. Amid the music and revelry there is the lurking presence of the skeletal Boney (Linnea Coffin) who seems to be just out of sight of the villagers on stage, but very frightening to at least one four-year-old boy in the audience.  At a key moment in the first act, Boney and her skeleton crew seize the light from the world plunging the holiday performance into darkness.  The fools thus are given the quest of finding their namesake light sources – the moon, the stars, and the sun – which they do with plenty of song and dance and a nativity play along the way.  The Revels crew deserve a lot of credit for the stage design featuring multiple layers of scaffolding for the performers and a Ship of Fools upon which the featured trio sail to fish for the reflection of the moon.  The costuming is also brilliant, especially Soleil, Etoile, and Eclaire de Lune’s outfits for the concluding mummer’s play.  And the makeup helped make Boney and the other skeletons the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a Revels’ production.

The final performance is Thursday December 29th at 1 pm, so get tickets and go see the show if you can.  If you’re reading this after the fact, make sure to check out The Revels’ website for future events.

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Hub on Wheels 2011


My son Peter & I participated in Boston’s citywide bike ride Hub on Wheels yesterday, our second consecutive year of participation. Participants could ride a 10-mile route on Storrow Drive or extend it to 30 and 50-mile routes around the city. We did an abridged version of the 30-mile route ending at the Arnold Arboretum since it’s near our home.

The ride started at City Hall with thousands of riders (apparently 5000 total) lined up past the Old State House. It was exciting to turn Storrow Drive into a big bicycle party. Peter enjoyed passing his day care center twice. The route then followed the Muddy River along Park Drive and the various Ways (River, Jamaica, and Arbor) to the Arboretum. Honestly the ride went by almost too quickly for me. We started at 8:08 am and arrived at the Arboretum around 9:20. I’d like to ride farther but there’s only so long one can expect an active 3-year-old to sit still in a bike seat.

The event went off without a hitch, with perhaps the one exception of the rest area at the Arboretum. The portable toilets and snack stands were set up along the road right in front of the visitor center creating a huge bottle neck as thousands of bicyclists tried to cram in. Last year the rest area was deeper in the Arboretum where Meadow Road and Forest Hills Road meet allowing a place for bikes to pull off without obstructing ongoing traffic.

Nevertheless, Peter & I had a good long snack on the hill by the visitor center. The bike traffic cleared out quickly and about fifteen minutes later it seemed that almost all the other cyclists were well on their way. We stayed in the Arboretum to play at Peter’s favorite little bridge, throwing rock and sticks in the stream.

Hub on Wheels is a great event and I love that every year Boston becomes more and more of a bicycle-friendly city. I’m going to have to figure out how to ride next year since Peter will have outgrown his child seat.

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Video of thousands of cyclists at the starting line:

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