Archived entries for Boston

Boston

I spent a fabulous weekend wandering my beloved Boston, amazed at all the changes that have happened over the past few years since I moved away. The city is more polished than ever, and as I walked the streets — especially those of the South End — I kept thinking, “this is one helluva rich place.” It wasn’t so long ago, when I lived in Back Bay, that I didn’t dare step into the outer reaches of our southerly neighbor. Of course I eventually moved to the South End, as it was becoming ever more gentrified. The pace of that change has quickly increased over the years and now the place looks almost unrecognizable from the no-mans-land I used to know!

That said, Boston is still an incredible city!

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Boston

The other day I was up in Boston, and except for the soon-to-open Mandarin Oriental and the hot new just-opened Apple Store (photo below), the city felt as if it hadn’t changed a bit. Here’s a basic rundown of how my morning there went:

7:53 a.m. – Land a Logan. A breeze getting downtown.

8:50 a.m. – Ramming around Back Bay. “Wow,” I think to myself. “I’ve been here an hour and haven’t seen anyone smiling.”

8:56 a.m. – Ran into my old neighbor outside the Pru. My friend John was making bets on how long it would be before I ran into someone who said, “Hey, haven’t seen you in a few weeks. Where ya been?” Only took an hour.

9:01 a.m. – On Columbus Ave., across the street from my old apartment, the same woman is STILL loitering outside her building with her baby-in-a-baby-carriage. Still seems sinister. Some things never change.

9:15 a.m. – Finally a smile! Does it matter that it’s in a cafe where they’re paid to smile at you? (I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Even I revert to an insta-scowl here!)

9:30 a.m. – Outside the South End Buttery, a recent arrival to the neighborhood comments, “Are there a lot of dogs here?” as two pups lunge at each other in a minor spat. (Oh honey, just check out The South End is Over for your answer!).

9:34 a.m. – I give up writing down my thoughts since this could go on all day…

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Spotted in Boston

I love passive-aggressive signs!

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Quotable

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to comment on Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s epic “Young Gay Rites.” Let’s just say it was longer than a flight to Johannesburg, but not quite as interesting. The blog remarks are quite amusing; everyone seems to think the cast of characters in the piece are silly, vacuous, and not that interesting. I tend to agree. But like everything Benoit produces, it is excellently written. I particularly enjoyed this gem, having seen far too many 60-year-olds clad in Abercrombie:

There was a reason, of course, why so many gay men my age and older seemed intent on living a protracted adolescence: We had been cheated of our actual adolescence. While most of our heterosexual peers had experienced, in their teens, socialization around courtship, dating and sexuality, many of us had grown up closeted and fearful, “our most precious and tender feelings rarely validated or reflected back to us by our families and communities,” as Alan Downs, the author of “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World,” puts it.

No wonder, then, that in our 20s so many of us moved to big-city gay neighborhoods and aggressively went about trying to make up for lost time. And no wonder that some of us — myself included — occasionally went overboard.

Tremont 647

Having spent the better part of my income for many years at Sister Sorel/Tremont 647 in Boston, I feel well qualified to complain about the quality of the food. (Full disclosure: once coming to this realization, I did mostly stick to the hefeweizen.) 647 is one of those places no gourmand can stop raving about, and that every food magazine has to gush about, at least once per issue. Boston magazine is the latest to fall victim to this trend, calling it, “the kind of place where one could easily imagine becoming a regular.” Am I the only one who can’t stand the food? It seems like everything tastes smoky — and not in a good way. But I suppose that with the amount of booze flowing at the bar, no one really notices how awful the food is. Just as well.

‘Tis better to give

2215-202_BouchonCLR_24hIt’s that time of year again when people (procrastinators) like me spend endless hours ramming through stores trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on ours lists. Maybe you’re like me and continue to come up short. Nothing ever seems like the perfect gift. Especially not for people like my family and friends who already seem to have it all. I’m not yet convinced that the gift-giving thing is all it’s cracked up to be. I’d rather just donate to a fine cause, so, as I’ve done for years, I’m sharing my favs:

BOSTON — Horizons for Homeless Children in Boston works with homeless preschool children. Ten-thousand kids in Massachusetts will be homeless at some point during the year in a state that is America’s third-richest. Spare Change News, part of the Homeless Empowerment Project, provides journalism jobs and income for the homeless and those at-risk of being homeless.

BUFFALO — I may be the only 20-something in New York who supports the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. The Olmsted legacy has shaped Buffalo, and this group has done such an amazing job of preserving the landscape designer’s work that the city actually handed over stewardship of its municipal park system to the group. You can donate $50 and get 50 flower bulbs planted in someone’s name!

MONTREAL — Montreal is truly a city of contrasts: it is Canada’s poorest big city, but also home to the country’s richest enclaves including Westmount, Hampstead, and Beaconsfield. The Old Brewery Mission, which provides homeless adults with meals and shelter, is a good bet.

NEW YORK — The Ali Forney Center serves homeless gay youth in New York City. Carl Siciliano, the director of the center once told The New York Times, “I think it’s shameful that these kids are out there alone and in danger, in a city where gay men have so much money.”

VANCOUVER — Last year I had the opportunity to take part in a fundraiser in Vancouver for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, an important resource for the poor and homeless of Canada’s most impoverished urban district, and now I’m hooked. One of the cooler services they provide is voicemail for people without phones. It sounds simple, but if you’re without work and/or without a home, you need a number so you can get a job.

“If you lived here, you’d be pretentious by now”

340208607_e6cdc8b4f6_mOne of the best and most controversial blogs in a long time is The South End is Over, a scathing but I think fairly accurate assessment of the evolution of Boston’s hippest neighborhood — and my home for three years — from gritty to gayborhood to yuppieville.

The blog has attracted not only the ire of those it criticizes, but the interest of Boston Magazine, which recently ran an article inspired by it, The South End is So Over.

“You wouldn’t know it from the thriving businesses or the still-hot real estate market, but there is a growing chorus of Bostonians who believe this has been the year the South End as they knew and loved it died, became hopelessly passé, jumped the shark. These critics—disaffected current or former residents, mostly—contend that the neighborhood has rapidly declined from an über-hip, multicultural melting pot into rich, white-bread uniformity, a shift that proves our city deserves its reputation as an unstylish, provincial burg irredeemably stratified by race and class…If the South End was Boston’s last great chance to put a star on the national coolness map, the argument goes, then we blew it, quickly overdeveloping everything wonderful about it into oblivion.”

As one resident told the magazine, “It’s lost all the things that made it Boston’s coolest place to live…Now it’s where rich people go to buy the experience of being hip, without actually being hip.”

When I was attending Boston University, long after the first wave of gentrification had hit the South End, the neighborhood felt decidedly “authentic” (whatever that means) — vast blocks of public housing coexisted with rehabbed brownstones, dark alleys still played host to plentiful sketchiness, and gay men by far outnumbered married couples and yuppies. By the time I moved to Columbus Ave. in 2003, the area had been spruced up further, but still retained a bit of grit — who hadn’t been mugged at one time or another while living in the South End? When I finally moved out in 2006, the chic shops had begun to hit Tremont Street, and the too-trendy restaurants far outnumbered the neighborhood’s crappy cheap-eats options. It felt almost like Disneyfication was happening. The latest wave of gentrification has only accelerated the changes, and visiting Boston today depresses me a bit — parts of the South End feel way too polished. As the author wonders, “Is this progress?”

Back to Boston

I came back to Boston for a quick trip to see some of my hottest friends and had a blast. I took the water taxi from Logan (the only way to arrive), then wandered through the Public Garden, past the swan boats and into Back Bay where the city was as clean and prim and proper as ever. There was even a string quartet playing on Newbury Street; how civilized ye olde Boston remains!

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The more things stay the same, the more they stay the same: Why is Francesca’s on Tremont Street still unable to create a Rice Krispy square that is actually crispy? (This battle of man vs. crisped rice has been going on in the South End for at least eight years, and I’d like to see some resolution.)

Over at Jae’s on Columbus, next door to my old apartment, they remembered me as soon as I walked in and the takeout guy asked where I’d been (as he should; I ate there 3-4 times a week for at least three years!). Earlier in the day, darting across Boylston by the soon-to-be Mandarin Oriental, I ran into two long lost friends.

I suppose this is where Boston excels, if not always in its friendliness then in its small community feel. You immediately feel reconnected when you’re back. That said, I lived in Boston long enough to know that I needed to leave it, partially because that small town feel can come to feel stifling. But as I wandered around my old neighborhood, I admit I felt a certain sense of longing for my old apartment and my old roof deck and my old bar.

Boys of Boston

One thing I miss terribly about Boston is Sister Sorel. I’ve not found any bar like it in New York, so last night my posse and I headed there and spent hours and hours holding court. (Before I get emails asking me what on earth I’m wearing below, I’ll just say it was on sale — 70% off + 20% off at the register! — at Holt Renfrew last weekend. It’s allegedly a very fashionable zip-up in certain circles. And as for the hair, don’t ask.)

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Greetings from Paradise! Can I come home now?

boston_harbor_0514I’m a sap for a sentimental article about life in Boston. And I can always tell a good one when I save it to my hard drive for safekeeping. In this month’s Boston magazine, there’s one such piece about a Bostonian who left the hub and moved to Dubai, returned, then left again, yet found himself musing about life in Boston the entire time: “It took moving to an unabashedly modern wonderland halfway around the world to make me realize how much I love Boston.”

“In Dubai there was no this-is-where-we-used-to-live or here-is-where-we-said-goodbye. The city is built on sand, a skyline where before there was none, and I liked that. A guy in a BMW, just passing through. As the man said, No yesterdays on the road. This is how it was for all of us there. You don’t so much go to Dubai as leave somewhere else. New buildings pop up, the surrounding dunes never the same shape twice, every day a fresh start.”

“Ending a relationship and leaving home provoke similar sensations. The absence that follows you around. The need to demonstrate that you’re doing much better than okay. When I talked to friends in Boston, I’d be sure to mention the fancy car, the cocktails at the Shangri-La. Come the winter months, I’d call to ask them how the weather was, usually while I was sitting by the pool. It didn’t help. People would tell me about the stuff they were doing, the same stuff they’d done when I was there, nothing amazing. And that’s what bothered me. It bothered me that the Number 1 bus still rolled up and down Mass. Ave., that people went in and out of restaurants and bars. It was an unsettling feeling, things just going on without you. Somewhere between losing your keys and worrying about death.”

I could keep quoting just about every line in the piece, but you should really read it for yourself.

Related: Boston, love it or leave it

Phoebe Dog!

My friend Mike sent me this fabulous shot of his personality-filled dog, whom he incorrectly spells Pheobie, at the finish line of today’s rainy Boston Marathon. She looks cuter than my friend John probably did when he crossed the finish line after a speedy four-hour run today. Congrats, John, for doing something I would never dare to do. (Because I am sane.)

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Provincetown

I lived in Boston’s South End for three years but never once set foot in its inhabitants’ favorite weekend getaway: Provincetown. Every weekend it seemed the place would empty out as my neighbors decamped for the Cape. I always preferred to spend my weekends in Maine or on my roof deck in the city, so I never made it to P’town — until this week. And I had such a good time I wish I would have started visiting years ago.

provincetown

I flew JetBlue from New York to Boston and then connected to Cape Air for the 22-minute hop across Massachusetts Bay to the quirky town on the tip of Cape Cod. Friends who have second homes in P’town often tell me they live for off-season time there, and I can see why — boarded up storefronts and “closed for the season” signs, but lots going on in the year-round community. It reminded me a lot like North Haven in winter, just with a few more people. I stayed at the White Wind Inn, where the innkeepers were incredibly hospitable. My room had a great balcony overlooking Commercial Street and the ocean beyond (photo above), but I didn’t get much use of it as I explored town.

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Fine causes

Fine causes

Oy vey. It’s December 24 and I haven’t yet begun to deal with holiday shopping. I sent a few cards out yesterday, but the gift thing is beyond me. So as always, I’m going to go the lazy route and give donations in friends’ names instead of gifts. As I’ve done for the past few years in this space, I’m sharing my favs:

BOSTON — The Homeless Empowerment Project in Cambridge is one of my favorite causes. The organization produces Spare Change News, providing jobs, income, and experience for the poor and homeless.

BUFFALO — I love the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy! The Olmsted legacy has shaped Buffalo, and this group has done such an amazing job of preserving the landscape designer’s work that the city actually handed over stewardship of its municipal park system to the group. You can donate $50 and get 50 flower bulbs planted in someone’s name!

MONTREAL — Montreal is truly a city of contrasts: it is Canada’s poorest big city, but also home to a few of the country’s richest enclaves including Westmount, Hampstead, and Beaconsfield. The Old Brewery Mission, which provides homeless adults with meals and shelter, is a good bet.

TORONTO — Raising the Roof is an umbrella organization for Canadian homelessness organizations, especially those targeting young people. There are about 65,000 homeless youth in Canada, which is 1/3 of the country’s homeless population.

VANCOUVER — Earlier this year I had the opportunity to take part in a fundraiser in Vancouver for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, an important resource for the poor and homeless of Canada’s most impoverished urban district. One of the cooler services they provide is voicemail for people without phones. It sounds simple, but if you’re without work and/or without a home, you need a number so you can get a job.

Boston

I just got back from Boston, where the city is looking more chic than ever. Boylston Street is seeing much of the action, like the new facade on the ugly mass of Lord & Taylor, and next door, the huge new Mandarin Oriental which is quickly rising in what has always been just a vacant lot. Across the street from the Mandarin will be the new Apple Store. Yay!

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And my old neighborhood, where just seven years ago I feared to tread, is increasingly posh. Even in the ten months since I moved away, the changes in the South End have been very visible, with lots of new shops and restaurants and new construction popping up everywhere. But luckily, the beauty of the hot neighborhood’s side streets and the Victorian brownstones that line them remains unchanged.

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Back to Boston

“I have just returned from Boston. It is the only sane thing to do if you find yourself up there,” Fred Allen once famously quipped. Indeed I just returned from four days in Boston but I didn’t really want to leave — everything was perfect! I’ve been away from the city for a few months now, and changes in that short span are evident everywhere. Building is proceeding at a frenetic pace and new restaurants and shops are popping up everywhere. I thought to myself, ‘Boston is becoming a real city.’ Yay!

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P’town says straight-bashing taking place

ptown_hateThe Boston Globe reports today that out in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod, “leaders are holding a public meeting today to air concerns about slurs and bigoted behavior. And this time, they say, it’s gay people who are displaying intolerance.”

“Police say they logged numerous complaints of straight people being called ‘breeders’ by gays over the July Fourth holiday weekend. Jamaican workers reported being the target of racial slurs. And a woman was verbally accosted after signing a petition that opposed same-sex marriage, they said.”

That said, one police sergeant told the paper, “I don’t necessarily view this as a big problem, but it’s certainly a blip on our radar screen.”

Story: “A New Intolerance Visits Provincetown

Inevitable?

Last night’s collapse of part of the Big Dig in Boston does not look pretty. I used to drive through the new tunnels twice a day, and every time, when I saw the dripping of water from the ceilings and walls I wondered how long the massive tunnel would stay put. Concrete slabs that make up the ceiling fell and crushed a car, killing the driver. This could be a turning point for the over-budget and corruption-plagued Central Artery/Tunnel project. The former head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority said today, “I will not go into the tunnels with my family. I’d go in alone.” The Herald has a great blog on the subject.

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36 Hours: Boston’s South End

The New York Times today has featured my old neighborhood in their 36 Hours travel section. Everyone seems to have a South End connection. In fact, two weeks ago at a party in Vancouver, I met a former South End who recently exiled himself to British Columbia.

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“Boston, while still not quite an avatar of cool, is showing plenty of new signs, for better or worse, of hipness. A Barneys New York opened at Copley Place this past spring, and the conductor of the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart, has introduced “Pops on the Edge,” a series that features musicians like Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann and the alternative country-rockers My Morning Jacket. A lot of the cultural heat is smoldering in the city’s South End. This vital neighborhood has been “emerging” for more than 10 years, but has now officially emerged. Engaging new restaurants, bars, shops and condominiums are found among the brownstones on Tremont Street, and are tucked into the side streets, too. Spending 36 hours in the South End proves that Boston has a happening, maybe glamorous, scene — even if some Bostonians still believe in eating supper at 5 o’clock.”

Lawyers back down from suit

Amidst pressure from Harvard Law School students, the prominent Boston law firm of Ropes & Gray has suspended working with Catholic Charities in the organization’s efforts to ban adoption by gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts.

Boston Apple Store delayed

What a shocker — Apple’s plan to build a four-story flagship on Boylston Street in Boston has been thrown into question after the Back Bay Architectural Commission said that the new building “is quite inappropriate in this location.”

John over at the Boston Real Estate Blog isn’t happy. He says he doesn’t care one way or the other about this Apple Store, but is “concerned with the ability of a company to build something they like and that people presumably want, without their plans being totally ruined by a bunch of NIMBY-loving, pantywaisted, out of touch snobs.”



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