Friday, June 29, 2007

Trip to Boston

Day 1
Our flight took off from Reagan at about 10:30 am and aside from some minor turbulence the flight was fairy smooth. Upon arrival at Boston's Logan International Airport, we immediately set about finding a shuttle that would take us to the nearest T station, which is how the subway here is referred to. As it turned out, the blue line would be our savior by delivering us to the green line via Government Center whereupon we would take that line for one stop before transferring to the red line at Park and heading out to Kendall/MIT where our hotel was located.

Looking at a map of the T, I was struck by how similar it was to Washington D.C.'s own hub-and-spoke Metro system. That's about where the similarities end though. Built just before New York started laying their own subway tracks, it's the oldest underground mass transit system in the country. Like the Big Apple's use of uptown or downtown to refer to train direction, all cars on the T are either 'inbound' or 'outbound'. Also like the New York subway, the stations that serve as transfer points are fairly complex to navigate thus demonstrating their iterative construction over the eleven plus decades the system has been in service. As well, some of the lines, such as the green line, share a fair portion of their tracks with street traffic meaning that both light rail (street cars) and heavy rail (subway) trains share the tracks making for a hodge podge of train types that can show up at any given platform.

Our first stop in Boston was the Samuel Adams brewery. Located just off the Stony Brook stop on the orange line, it is not, contrary to popular belief, run by descendants of the revolutionary himself. In fact, it was started in 1985 by a member of the Koch (pronounced 'cook') family which had made a name for itself in brewing during the 19th century. The tour itself was fairly informal and included a brief history of the brewery, a highlight of the four main ingredients of Samuel Adams beer (hops, barley, water and yeast) and finally a sampling of three different types of this native brew. Our tour was lucky enough to get a taste of their Boston Lager, Summer Ale and Märzen, the latter being unique to this brewery and not available to the general public.

Day 2
The morning started off at Boston Common, a public park of 44 acres set aside by the original Puritan founders. Our tour started from this central location and followed what's called the Freedom Trail, a path laid out nearly 50 years ago that traces Boston's historic moments. The tour guide himself was an older fellow dressed in the style of the late 1700s, tricorne hat and all, and emulating a minor player from the period who was friends with the biggest names of the revolution. Flair and knowledge combined to produce a tour that was both entertaining and enlightening. Though the guided portion ended at Fanuiel hall, we decided to continue on across the Charles river, stopping by the Bunker Hill monument and finally ending at the USS Constitution.

Walking the full length of the Freedom Trail didn't leave any time for a mid-afternon nap so immediately upon arriving back at our hotel in Kendall, we had to get ready to meet up with family that lived in the area. We rendezvoused at a place in Beacon Hill called Fig's which is known for its gourmet pizza. My choice was the spicy chicken sausage while the other types sampled included one smothered in portobello mushrooms, one crested with arugula and another known as the Red Sox which had its own spicy sausage topping. We did our best to work off the enormous meal by walking back to Cambridge via the Longfellow bridge over the Charles river instead of taking the T.

Day 3
The day started out bright and relatively early at the nearest Starbucks with a cranberry-orange muffin and a soy mocha. From there, it was a quick jaunt down to 3rd St. and over to Charles St. to get to the Museum of Science. We'd been warned that it was juvenile and outdated but I was interested in the Jane Goodall exhibit that highlighted the famous anthropologist's work with chimpanzees. Admission was relatively cheap at $16 and while much of the displays were indeed juvenile and outdated, there were also some real gems. The chimpanzee exhibit was interesting but I felt it was far outshined by the electrical exhibit. Every two hours, a show took place that used the world's largest Van de Graaff generator. Harmless and beautiful static discharges, lethal yet fantastic lightning bolts and even the eerie St. Elmo's fire were put on display with each being eloquently explained.

Our next stop was the Langham hotel which was hosting the Chocolate Bar. A local favorite among Bostonians, it features a buffet of nothing but chocolate. Some of the highlights were chocolate banana paninis, chocolate crepes, and chocolate fondue. Consisting of enough chocolate desserts to make a French pastry chef blush, it was a true chocolate lovers paradise. Three dishes in, I was feeling slightly woozy and had to resort to eating fruit, sans fondue, if I was going to avoid getting sick.

Early evening saw us wandering the Harvard campus taking in its beautiful environs. Despite being summer, it felt like a regular school day with college-aged kids packing the the streets and impromptu sidewalk concerts filling the air with music. Eventually we made our way over to a small restaurant called Casablanca. Located below street level, it was festooned with scenes from the famous movie and featured unique Mediterranean inspired dishes on its menu. While I had the venison rare with risotto, she ordered the soft shell crab on a corn and arugula base. We washed it down with an excellent 2005 bottle of zinfandel. After dinner we meandered through Harvard Square slowly making our way back to the T station.

Day 4
Being our last day, we decided to take things a bit easier. After having checked out of our hotel at a leisurely 10 am, we took the T to the New England Aquarium. The main enclosure was approximately four stories tall and consisted of a round central tank which was hugged by a spiral ramp that gave patrons an unfettered view of the countless fish that inhabited it. The main enclosure itself had a square ramp running inside of it and at each level, there were a series of tanks housed that highlighted a particular aquatic habitat. Contrasting it with the world-famous Baltimore Aquarium, it was quite a bit smaller but their penguin exhibit was worth the visit alone.

Being so close to Boston's historic downtown, we retraced some of our foot steps from the other day and made our way to the Green Dragon which had come highly recommended by my buddy Georgios, a native of the area. Established by a man named John Cary in 1657, its name was well-known as a local watering hole by the time the Sons of Liberty started using it for their secret meetings in the days leading up to the revolution. After a light meal of mussels and beer, we started back for the hotel so we could pick up our suitcases and head out to the airport.

My overall feeling about Boston is that it is a great town that would be a fun place to live. But because of the harsh winter it is unlikely you will ever find me living there. As well, the disorganized street layout can make navigation difficult as opposed to Manhattan where everything is laid out in a grid fashion. Yet it should be noted that the majority of Boston's activities are centralized making them easy to get to and completely negating the need for a cab. And the T, while older and somewhat more confusing than D.C.'s Metro, really does take you anywhere you need to go. So for those of you looking to spend some time in a classic American city without the hassle of renting a car, I would highly recommend Boston.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Prone to violence

On a recent survey of my movie collection, it came to my attention that over 90% of my movies involve violence as a main theme. From A History of Violence to Full Metal Jacket, the sheer unabashed aggression on display in these movies is stark and unavoidable. But does a collection that encompasses three decades worth of some of the most violent movies indicate a violence personality?

Now I don't consider myself a very violent person. Save for the occasional brawl in elementary school, my youth was untarnished by physical encounters. Road rage led me on occasion to vent my anger at my fellow drivers through pointless screaming in the comfort of my own car but it never went beyond that. City life has taken some getting used to what with the constant crowds but again, it's never gotten to the point where I've actually attempted to knock another guy's block off.

Some would take this opportunity to suggest that watching violent movies might be alleviating that pent up aggression, thus saving me from a stint in jail or worse. But history shows us that engaging in violence often leads to more of the same. Witness the Roman gladiatorial contests which started small yet by the third century was consuming more than a third of the year in the form of state-sponsored holidays to view these bloody spectacles.

Yet a violent movie collection does not a violent person make. Hype in the media about violence in movies causing increased rates of murder and mayhem are just that, hype. The roots of violence are numerous and range from well understood causes like child abuse to lesser known factors such as brain damage. Movies however are not one of them.