Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Road Scholars- Fear of Boredom in Salem, Massachusetts

Kierkegaard said, “Boredom is the root of all evil.”  In the case of the Salem Witch Trials, he was correct.  Historians have debated the cause of the fanatical witch hunt for ages, but after one visit to Salem, Massachusetts I knew boredom started it all.

  Our morning leaving Boston began in the most irksome way: a dead battery.  The family truckster died of boredom sitting in a hotel parking garage for two days.  We joined Triple A auto club for this supposition, so Greg made the call and a mechanic was duly dispatched.  Greg stood by our vehicle while the kids and I sat on the curb waiting.  
Triple A called. “Traffic on I-90 is shutdown.  The mechanic is looking for side streets to your location.  It may be another thirty minutes.”
Wyatt leaned his head on my shoulder.  Emma sprawled over the curb with her head in my lap.  Anabel paced with her dad.  We waited.
The mechanic called. “Wheh is youh cah pahked?  I can’t find the entrance.”  Greg explained the back alley/underground entrance to the Hyatt Hotel.  We waited. 
(Are you bored yet? I fell asleep while writing this.)
Finally, the mechanic found our vehicle and assessed that we needed two new batteries to the tune of $350.  
“Aw, you’re kidding me!  I had those replaced last year.  They can’t be dead yet!” Greg said knowing three hundred and fifty dollars was not in our budget.
“Wheh’d you get ‘em?  You can return ‘em fa a refund.  If you got’em at a Triple A affiliate, I won’t chahge you.”
Greg couldn’t remember, but called our hometown mechanic to find out. Suddenly, Greg’s ennui was relieved by the slowest Southern drawl in one ear and a Southie’s   rapid dropping of Rs in the other.  I kept the kids out of the way while Greg’s brain tried to translate. 
Georgia mechanic: 
“Hey, Greg.  How’re you?  Yeah.  Heard y’all were traveling.  Where’re y’all at?  Boston, you say.  Well, how bout that. What’s that bout your car? Yeah. We replaced them batteries for you… let me see… seems like it was last year.  Where’d we get the batteries?  Let’s see… seems like it was that place down the road…”
Boston mechanic:
“Wheh’d he get ‘em? Wheh’d he get ‘em? We got a Auto Zone ‘round the corneh can deliveh them a sap.”
Georgia mechanic:
“Well, Greg.  I’m trying to think.  Most times we get our parts from that Auto Zone up the road in Macedonia. You know the one just past the church there.  Yeah.  Down by the Ace Hardware.  But now I’ma thinking we might of got‘em at that other place.”
Greg to the Boston mechanic while still listening to our old mechanic:
“Order them.  I’ll take the dead batteries with me and sort it out later.”  Boredom cost us $350 bucks; evil, indeed.
Two hours later, we arrived at the village of Salem in time for the noon tour at Salem’s Witch Museum.  Walking up to the door I pointed to a statue in the street.  “Look kids! They have a statue of a witch.”
“Mom, that’s a pilgrim man.” 
“Oh. Yeah. I see that now. Roger Conant- first settler of Salem, 1626.  Never mind.”
The Salem Witch Museum tour began with a interactive show that took us through the entire witch trial drama.  We were led into a church/court-like room and sat around the edges of the stage on benches. The lights were dimmed and only a circle of names glowed in the middle of the room. I had goosebumps.  Then, a curtain opened and an animatronic pilgrim came out to tell the story.  My goosebumps receded. 
Seventeenth Century New England’s Puritan culture demanded that children be seen and not heard- and I thought waiting for a mechanic was boring.  In January of 1692, Salem Village wanted to get rid of their new minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, having become disenchanted by his greed.  Parris’s nine-year-old daughter, Betty, felt the stress in the household and sought release.  It was the dead of winter with the entire village covered in snow.  What can a girl do to fight stress and boredom? Gather your girlfriends for some fortune telling with the family’s Barbados slave, of course.  Betty and her friends, Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam delighted in the devilish entertainment of Tibuta’s tales.  What could make this more fun?  Pretending to be afflicted and possessed, obviously.  Soon Betty began writhing on the floor and speaking gibberish.  When Ann and Abigail saw the great diversion Betty was having, they joined in.  Each cowered under chairs, frightened of unseen specters.  They convulsed in fits and flung themselves against walls and furniture.  The honorable Reverend Cotton Mather said upon witnessing their afflictions, “The girls’ agonies could not possibly be dissembled.” Without natural causes, the Puritans declared the girls to be under supernatural control… bewitched. 
In March, the girls pointed their undulating fingers toward three of the town’s lowest folks: a beggar- Sarah Good, an infirm- Sarah Osburn, and Tibuta- the slave whose tales first broke the boredom.  Osburn declared her innocence, as did Good, but Good declared Osburn to be a witch.  Tibuta, thanks to the lashes of her master- the good Reverend Parris, sang like a bird.  She confessed to being a witch and enchanted the entire village with her stories of Satan’s army of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a white haired man who made her sign the devil’s book.  She claimed there were several undiscovered witches living in Salem whose primary goal was to destroy Puritanism.  Ironically, the Salem Witch Hunt almost did just that.
Within six months, hundreds were arrested and twenty-two were tried and convicted of witchcraft. The bored girls put on an entertaining show at each trial:  Ann suddenly goes limp.  Abigail and Betty shriek in response.  Ann jerks awake and begins flying about the room flapping her arms as wings and screeching an ungodly sound. The overwrought judges implore her to name her tormentors.  She silently points another finger. Puritans from near and far came to witness the nineteen innocent villagers hung till their deaths at Gallows Hill. Five more- including one infant- died in prison awaiting their trials.  One man, Giles Cory, refused to enter a plea of innocence or guilt and was pressed to death with massive stones added atop him- one at a time- by his neighbors hoping to make him confess.  
At this point in the multimedia show, Emma climbed in my lap.  The mannequin Giles Cory grimaced in great pain as the stones lowered onto his body.  This was not part of her elementary school’s reenactment of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.  It was our children’s first exposure to the dour side of Puritan life.   Between the stone pressing and the grotesque statue of Satan, I hoped Emma didn’t have nightmares due to this history lesson. But reservations aside, what a way to learn about history!  We had witnessed the positive effects of the pilgrim spirit with the American Revolution, and we were seeing what happened when that Puritanical work ethic turned into fanaticism. 
After reading the names of the twenty-five people who died in the Salem Witch Hunt, we were guided into the second phase of the tour: the history of witches and the devastating results of witch hunts around the world from the Middle Ages to present day.  From midwifery to the Wizard of Oz, the transformation of women healers to wicked witches with green skin and pointy hats would have been comical if it wasn’t so disturbing.  Then, the museum’s attempts to promote an understanding of the Wicca religion today would have been moving if it wasn’t for the comical pandering of Bewitched items for sale in the museum gift shop.  I loved Samantha, but the old episode- the one where she was chased around Salem by an enchanted bed warmer from Nathaniel Hawthorn’s House of Seven Gables- playing in the background as we shopped for a Christmas tree ornament of a witch made the whole thing feel silly.  But at least, I wasn’t bored.
Before leaving Salem, we discussed hysteria and false accusations over a delicious lunch of comfort food at the Scratch Kitchen.  
“I think teenagers blow everything out of proportion,” said the girl who would be turning thirteen in six months.  Anabel gleaned another reason not to grow up from our tour of Salem.
Downplaying age as a factor, I said, “I think the lesson is: beware of bored people.  Now finish your grilled cheese and let’s head to Maine!”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Joy of Food- Julia Child's Boston

A slight breeze touched my face as I peered into the grocer’s window.   A pyramid of giant, orange pumpkins surrounded by their apple minions in red, green and yellow happily greeted passers-by, inviting them to stop, look and come inside.  I opened the door and stepped into the world of Julia Child. (Okay, for those readers who know the Savenor’s that Julia shopped is not on Charles Street I confess: exhaustion made me settle. I wanted to step inside the original shop, but time and energy prevented me from walking the extra two and a half miles across the Charles River to Kirkland Street in Cambridge.)
In 1963, Savenor’s door opened daily to Julia and her insatiable excitement for food.  She said, “You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.”  Savenor’s supplied her fresh ingredients and she shopped their store near her Cambridge, Massachusetts home each day before filming her cooking show, The French Chef.
The original Kirkland Street location opened in 1939 by Lithuanian immigrant, Ibrahim Savenor.  When Julia Child and her husband, Paul, moved to Cambridge in 1961, Julia made fast friends with Savenor’s son, Jack, while discussing their common passion, food.  Julia believed friends were the most important ingredient to a happy life and loved entertaining.  She wrote in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then, you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”  Food was always meant to be shared and discussed with friends.

Alone, I stalked the rows of Savenor’s simple and luxurious food.  Fresh fruits and veggies encased in wooden bins.  Signature sauces and rubs lined three shelves.  The back wall contained the meats.  Beef bones, beef cheeks, beef ribs- every beef imaginable was lovingly placed in the case by the butcher giving understanding to Child’s quote about her friend, Jack Savenor, “Every woman should kiss their butcher.”  Lamb chops, pork belly, and chicken legs were ready for all the servant-less cooks of Boston.  They just needed the courage of their convictions to choose.  I was drawn to one cooler door by its sign: fats and lards.  Duck fat, goose fat, rendered lard.  Oh, my!  And I thought my sweet southern grandmother backward for insisting on cooking with lard rather than Crisco.  Savenor’s sold lard by each perfected ounce.  Greg swore by it stating simply, “Fat equals flavor.”  I smiled as I closed the cooler door; Julia Child would have loved my Greg.
The Manchester
After ogling the game and specialty meats- they sold kangaroo, ostrich, python, and a variety of others- I made my way to the sandwich counter for dinner. Our first night in Boston had been spent paying homage to history at America’s oldest restaurant,  The Union Oyster House, which has been in continuous operation as a restaurant since 1826.  We sat in the Kennedy booth, JFK’s favorite spot, and enjoyed some “wicked-good chowda,” but we dined on straight forward seafood.  I was hoping to experiment with some take-out from Julia’s gourmet purveyor.  Twenty minutes later, I walked back up Charles Street with cheese, grapes, olives and three sandwiches for our family to share: the Arricia- house-made porketta and house pickled fennel drizzled with  local honey on an Iggy’s farmhouse roll, the Manchester- double smoked bacon, fresh avocado, vine-ripened tomato, fresh mixed greens, and spicy aioli on Iggy’s cibatta roll, and the Toulouse- crisped duck confit, pickled root vegetables, sautéed savoy cabbage with pancetta, and spicy aioli on an Iggy’s torta roll.  Julia would have been pleased, especially since I discovered through Savenor’s an unknown source: Iggy’s Bread of the World.  

Iggy’s was the dream child of Igor and Ludmilla Ivanovic (yes, those are their real names) after the couple met while working at Eli’s Bakery in New York.  They fell in love with bread and each other, moved to Massachusetts and created their family business. For eighteen years, they have been baking breads for restaurants, farmer’s markets and kitchen tables out of their Cambridge store.  The Savenor’s folks shared the couple’s love of bread story with me while they layered, spiced and sliced our sandwiches.  Simple and luxurious ingredients on fresh bread.  Who could ask for more?

Greg could.  “You only got three sandwiches? I’m starving.”

“I thought that would be enough for us.  We had those huge Boston Barkers for lunch.”

“Hey, we toured all of Fenway Park and walked from the harbor to the hotel and half the Freedom Trail today.  Your two meals of brunch and lupper are not cutting it for me,” Greg said before taking a huge bite of the Manchester.

The kids devoured the other two sandwiches while I nibbled the grapes and cheese. I nicked one bite from Wyatt and almost lost a finger.  Greg begrudgingly handed over the other half of his sandwich to Anabel and said, “Let’s check out Chinatown for dinner.  Kids, do y’all want to come?”

Anabel was the first to pipe up. “We’re good.” Their little legs could only take so much, but their mouths were still going.  They finished the cheese and grapes while waiting on the shower.

I tucked each into bed with a book before Greg and I headed across the street to Boston’s Chinatown.  I knew nothing about this area having researched American history and Julia Child for this trip, but Greg had clearly done his homework as he marched us passed several delightful looking restaurants to a basement establishment called The Best Little Restaurant.  

With high hopes for the food, I noted they were not named the Best Little Decorated Restaurant.  Clean, white table cloths were as far as their decor went.  We were seated in the back near a table of six Chinese businessmen.  I entertained Greg with each man’s role in the Chinese mafia while he chose our dishes.  I had no idea what was coming, but the waiter smiled as Greg ordered.

When the platter of chicken feet arrived at our table, I understood the waiter’s amusement. “Did you mean to order this?” I asked.  I wanted to try new foods, but this was crossing the line.

“Yes! This looks awesome!” Greg dived in.

“Are you kidding me?  It’s jellied chicken feet!” Then, I thought, “What would Julia do? If Paul had ordered her a plate of chicken feet, she would have eaten it with  pleasure.”  I stared at the platter.  The feet glistened in the romantic glow of florescent lights.  They jiggled on their journey from the platter to Greg’s plate.  He forked one and brought it to his lips.  I could hear it squish between his teeth.  Screw Julia.  I was not trying the chicken feet.

I sated my hunger with Greg’s other choices: lobster with ginger and scallions and spareribs with garlic sauce. The delicate lobster melted in my mouth without squishing. The crisp, caramelized coating on the outside of ribs punctuated our discussion of the Cantonese food with crunches and smacks. We declared it wasn’t the best little Chinese food we’d ever eaten, but it was damn good.
With tummies full, we walked back to our hotel tying up our many threads of conversation before returning to the kids.  From the Green Monster to the toiling at MIT, from Savenor’s shelves to the fictitious machinations of Boston’s Chinese mafia, we talked without interruption. It was bliss.

Stealing a line from Julia and Paul Child, I said, “You are the bread to my butter; the breath to my life.” 

“And you are the cheese to this conversation.”

“Ah!  Thanks, Honey.”

 Julia was right. Everything- except chicken feet- tasted better when shared with your best friend.     

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Family Road Scholars: Tourists in Boston

By day six of our road trip, I relinquished my teacher reins and placed them firmly in the claws of Lobstaman.  Lobstaman was our driver and guide on the Old Town Trolley Tours in Boston.  Spending so much time with my kids, I had grown emotionally and no longer needed to prove I knew it all for my family. Plus, I was worn out. In my former life, I would rather have died than look like a tourist, but now I was a mother with three children to teach and only one full day to do it. I had never been to Boston so the trolley tour and harbor cruise made sense. 

We hopped on the tour across from the state building near the top of Beacon Hill and next to Boston Common.  Lobstaman began his lessons in history and regional phonetics immediately.

“Climb on, folks, and grab a seat.  We gotta book it outta here to stay on schedule. Where you guys from?”

“Atlanta!” Greg shouted over the roar of the wind as Lobstaman gunned it down Beacon Street and hung a right onto School.  

“That’s wicked good ‘cause I was gonna make you stand if you were Nooyawkahs.”  
Laughing at New York’s expense, I settled next to the trolley’s open window and let Lobstaman’s corny jokes and the fall breeze lighten my mood.  I thought, “Is there anything better than a crisp, clear autumn day?  Who would want to be sitting in a beige, concrete-block walled classroom on a day like this?”

Our group rattled along the streets of Boston deciphering the American history as we went.  To our right, the Old South Meeting House where the People of Boston assembled and planned the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. I thought all was done in secrecy, but in reality posters were plastered all over the city exclaiming the meetings to discuss responses to the Tea Act: 

Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! That worst of Plagues, the detested tea shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the Harbor; the hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the machinations of Tyranny stares you in the Face… 

“Machinations of Tyranny…” How vivid!  The People first planned to meet at Faneuil Hall, but over five thousand showed up, so they moved to the larger Old South Meeting House.  Again, I was mistaken in my understanding of The Boston Tea Party.  I thought it was a few brave souls-not thousands! After a month of dead-end negotiations and unsuccessful pressure-plays with the loyalist tea purveyors, the People left it to the Sons of Liberty to carry out the final plan to prevent the tea from hitting shore and a tax being due upon it.  On the night of December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, numbering 116 Mohawk Indian impersonators, sneaked aboard the three tea ships moored in the harbor and dumped 342 chests of British tea overboard.  So much for my image of Sam Adams and three other dudes doing all the work.  Actually, the whole event was carried out in a gentlemanly manner with the dumpers sweeping the decks clean and replacing a broken lock after their peaceful protest was complete.

Our trolley tour included a harbor cruise that pointed out the location of the Tea Party- although historians believe the actual watery location was covered by landfill of the ever growing City of Boston many years ago so the official historical plague rests at the corner of Congress and Purchase Street.  On board our ship, we watched as the water glimmered in the late September sun.  I didn’t tell the kids about the true garbage-filled historic site; Boston harbor was more poetic. 

“When legend becomes fact, print the legend,” Greg said quoting his favorite movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

“And they did.” We leaned against the rails admiring our view of the blue sky, shimmering water, and the stars and stripes flapping in the wind.  This Colonial America trip was bringing out the patriot in us all.

After viewing the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”   from the War of 1812 fame, we resumed our trolley tour, rolling around Bunker Hill, and eventually rattling past the Old North Church from whence the “Two if by sea” lights shined causing Paul Revere’s famous ride- another fictionalized event in American history thanks to William Wadsworth Longfellow’s iconic poem.  The more we toured America the more I began to realize how skewed my elementary education had been.  All my teachers took the Liberty Valance movie quote to heart.  In teaching my own kids, I wanted to get it right. The facts of the “midnight ride” were this:  

Actively engaged in the patriot’s cause, Paul Revere warned John Hancock, Sam Adams, and the town of Lexington that the ‘British were coming’ three days before his ride.  He set up a signal system for warning patriots in Charlestown of the moment and direction of the British’s movement in case Revere couldn’t leave Boston- in other words, the lights in the Old North Church were not for him.  But he made it across the Charles River and safely traveled on horseback to Lexington only to be captured by four British soldiers in route to Concord.  Luckily, there were three riders on this famous midnight ride: Revere, William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott.  Only Prescott reached Concord to alert the Minute Men to hide their storehouse of ammunitions and prepare to face the British in time. This field trip year was becoming an education for all of us and a hell of a lot more work than I expected just researching all the historical facts. 

The trolley jolted to a stop.  Downtown traffic snarled as rush hour approached giving us a break from the onslaught of facts, but we couldn’t escape the intertwining of history with modern America.  With a graveyard to our right and a bar to our left, I could see Sam Adams’ headstone out of the corner of one eye and people drinking Sam Adams’ beer out of the other.  

“Man, I’m thirsty,” I said.

“Ready to hop off?” Greg’s interest was waning. There was only so much information a person could process in a day.

“We’re not far from Fenway Park.  Why don’t you and Wyatt hop off there for a tour and the girls and I will continue on to Cambridge?”  Greg agreed immediately.  Baseball always perked him up.

We waved the boys goodbye in the shadow of the Green Monster.  Greg back-kicked Wyatt in his rear end as they approached the ticket booth.  The Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox were out of the pennant race, but the love of baseball continued.  Visiting all the major league parks was a bucket list item for Greg.  He checked off Turner Field, Old Yankee Stadium, Camden Yard, and now, Fenway- only twenty-six to go. 

Crossing the Charles River over the Harvard Bridge to Cambridge, Boston College crew boats sliced the water with precision navigating around sailboats and Boston whalers. We didn’t see many rowing teams in the South, and this Georgia Bulldog felt a little in awe as we entered the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  I taught gifted children for over ten years where we considered MIT the holy grail of universities with Harvard a close second.  The girls and I smiled into the crisp late afternoon breeze ready to increase our intelligence by osmosis; we must glean something from being this close to our nation’s brain trust.  My eyes swept the campus squares ready to note any student behavior, their dress, walk or general demeanor, that might give insight into the brilliance needed to gain admission to this school.  Nothing. No one in sight. Any given Friday in September on University of Georgia’s campus would show kids of every color celebrating life without parents; girls in dresses outside sorority houses, boys in jeans tackling one another on lawns, kids shouting and laughing- just happy to be alive.  On MIT’s campus at four o’clock on Friday afternoon, every light was on in the industrial-like buildings, while tumbleweeds drifted through the parks and streets. Apparently, attending MIT took a more diligent work ethic than your run-of-the-mill SEC university.  On this glorious afternoon, I was thankful for my average education.  I bet no MIT graduate would quit her job to take off and explore the world with her family.  Go, Slacker University!

Our trolley tour ended, but I wanted more of Boston.  Anabel and Emma did not.

“Let’s walk through the Common and back to Charles Street.  I want to take a look in the shops.”

“I’m so tired,” said Emma. 

“Me, too. Can we go back to the hotel?” asked Anabel.

“It’s beautiful out.  Who knows when we’ll be back to Boston… come on, girls, stick with me.”  I tried to convince them to power through and walk Beacon Hill with me, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I loved sharing a new city with my kids, but nothing beats exploring all alone.  

Savenor's Shop Window
With Greg and Wyatt at the ballpark and Anabel and Emma tucked in the hotel room with a movie, I walked.  I walked through the Common to the most delightful street in America: Charles Street.  Shop windows displayed autumnal colors in clothing and food, in antiques and even pharmaceutical products. From slate gray arm chairs with red and gold throw pillows to a pyramid of Gold Bond Powder, each purveyor did their part to give the street a seasonal feel.  A burnt orange and taupe scarf called my name, but budget-minded, I averted my eyes. Mothers and nannies strolled the youngest of each robust brood of children reminiscent of the Kennedy clan.  Down a side street to my left was the Charles River with a lone man maneuvering a kayak off the hood of his Subaru. Up a street to my right were Beacon Hill’s brass door knockers and elaborate window boxes filled with tangerine mums, purple and white cineraria and yellow tinged juniper against a background of variegated ivy.  I smiled as I passed every person, shop and door.  I walked without stopping until I arrived at Savenor’s.