Month: April 2014

Cherry Blossom Festival

The annual cherry blossom festival (Sakura Matsuri) is going on at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens this weekend. While the gardens are usually a serene place to escape the city and maybe even get some writing done, during Sakura Matsuri, they are overrun with thousands of people enjoying Japanese food and culture while gawking at the blossoming cherry trees. Unfortunately, because of the harsh winter, the cherry blossoms are delayed and there were only a few blooming when I went yesterday. There were many other lovely signs of spring, however, such as these summer snowflake flowers.

Spring is an inspiring time for writers, as nature begins to stir up colors and sounds that tell us winter is ending and the long days of summer are ahead. It is a time for new beginnings and appreciating the natural world. Sakura Matsuri made me think of haiku poetry, which usually highlights some aspect of natural beauty in a simple form. I composed the haiku below about my day. Share your own haiku with us through the comments feature! Let us know what spring means to you.

 

The red-headed finch
looks down on me from the tree
covered with full buds.

 

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Marathon Monday

IT’S MARATHON MONDAY IN BOSTON.

Every other third Monday in April that I can remember, I’ve woken up with a school day or work day off, filled with the pleasurable expanse of the day before me. I’ve turned on the TV in time to see the leading runners leave Hopkinton, and then kept it on to see them laboring through the miles, their honest, miraculous, movement through the towns of Massachusetts. Every year before 2013, I was at my childhood home in Newton, and I’d mosey out to Commonwealth Ave in time to cheer on the runners going by. I’d get a special rush of excitement to see the leaders pass, but there was even more pleasure in seeing the steady wave of runners that followed, the swelling phalanx of people surging with good will, with cheer. The joy of their effort was infectious. I think there’s no better sport to be a spectator at than to be alongside the long miles of a marathon. Some of us participate with our cups of water, and are thrilled when the proffered cup we hold is snatched; and others are sure to cheer the loudest when soldiers in heavy packs go tramping by; whoever is our favorite competitor, we get to see him or her, right there, achieving this startling feat of human endurance. There is no wall between us and them; we almost share in their triumphs. That’s yet another reason why the events of a year ago hurt so many of us on so many levels.

The last week has been a fraught one for the city of Boston; inhabitants have been doing their best to honor the survivors, the victims, and to keep our faces turned forward. I’ve noticed how little mention has been made of the alleged bombers themselves. They do not belong to the future of the city, and so we do not even honor their names in this week. In the coming months the trial will no doubt seize hold of our attention, but right now, it’s the marathon we are intent on restoring. The memorials have been respectful, determined, almost upbeat. We’re not looking back. We’ve got our eyes on the finish line.

Last year was the first year I was living in the city proper and so went to the finish line. I saw the winners round that final corner onto Boylston Street, and felt the waves of good will coming from every direction. I went home hours before the disaster struck. This time, I want to be there again; I want to see that first weary face turn the final corner, and the leading runner suddenly begin to sprint, to float on the deafening crowd. After that astonishing trek, the leaders always seem to have something left for a final battle to the finish line. And for all the weary amateur runners who follow him, there is still enough left to cross the line, to raise their arms in triumph. Where does that strength come from?

Will you be at the marathon this year? The crowds are promising to be legendary. Security will be tight, of course; it’s one of those prices we pay these days to feel safe in a modern city. But I don’t think the spirit will be too diminished. From what I’ve seen, this city is ready to make this event an occasion for joy and uplift once again.

What Do Bostonians Do for Fun?

I can’t tell you for sure what the average Bostonian is doing for fun on a Saturday night. We’re a diverse lot, and I’m not a typical representative; I’ve always been firmly in the nerd camp, holed up with a book on weekends rather than out getting my party on. But I think there are plenty of me’s out there in Boston as well. Being a college town, and an elite college town, we have more than our fair share of nerds, quietly reading or studying or playing video games on Saturdays. But we also know how to have a good time.

Pubcrawl

Boston has a thriving pub scene, thanks to the influence of Irish culture, and the default location for a good weekend night is one of the hundreds of pubs out there. You can go to sports bars like Sweet Caroline’s or dive bars like The Lower Depths, or classy cocktail joints like the Hub. There are more Irish pubs than I can name, and most of them have good greasy food, cheap beer, and just that right frat-boy atmosphere that you want once in a while. That’s where you’ll find half of Boston after a night baseball game, or spilling out of North Station after the Bruins have played.

Art and Culture

We’re also a very cultured town, of course. We’ve got the MFA, a world-renowned art museum, and other cultural sites. A personal favorite of mine are the numerous readings that circle around the city’s best independent bookstores. You won’t want to miss Harvard Bookstore’s star-studded lineup of readers. Last year I saw Nick Flynn and only just missed Rachel Kushner due to snow; they regularly get the best in readers, in both fiction and non-fiction. If you’re closer to Allston, you won’t want to miss Brookline Booksmith, which also regularly has wonderful author events. I recently saw an old teacher of mine, Edmund White, give a reading from his latest work.

Drama and the Outdoors

We also have a thriving little theater district, of course, with regular Broadway hits making stops here, such as The Book of Mormon, which will be arriving in the month of April, and local Boston favorites such as Blue Man Group. But the extra fun of the theater district is its location; it’s right off of Boston Common, and when the weather is warm, as it’s beginning to be, there’s nothing better than strolling through the beautiful common on a spring night. There’s an old-world magic and mystery under the street lights, with the close, intimate shrug of the small city around you, the Boston Public Garden within reach, and the lovely rolling hills of green all within sight. A good city is often defined by its green spaces, and both New York and Boston share some lovely strips of green.

Ode to Sydney

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Haven’t heard from your New York editor in a while? Yes, I apologize. I have been cheating on New York with another fabulous city: Sydney, Australia.

Following in our Boston editors footsteps, I was able to take a trip Down Under and loved my first visit to Australia. I visited Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra (for only a few hours). Since Blair already wrote about Melbourne and I barely got to know Canberra, let me tell you about Sydney.

While I wouldn’t equate Sydney with New York as much as Blair equated Melbourne with Boston, I definitely shared her sense of familiarity with Australian culture. England feels distinctly European, with its narrow, cramped streets and buildings hundreds of years old, it feels steeped in history and secrets. Australia, however, like the United States, is a relatively new country and is much more organized and cleanly built. The streets are wide and Sydney especially has a skyline with many modern skyscrapers. Like New York with its Empire State Building, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House (pictured above in the rain) give it a skyline that is distinct and recognizable anywhere.

I also had the opportunity to travel (again in the rain) to the Blue Mountains, about an hour and a half drive from the center of Sydney. There a got to experience a “bush walk,” and I was shocked to find myself in what looked like a rainforest. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only ignorant American out there who thinks of Australia as a land of dry, red dust with kangaroos hopping around. In the Blue Mountains, however, I was transported to a world filled with mist and eucalyptus trees shedding layers of bark onto the damp ground and spider webs on nearly every branch. Through the mist, we were barely able to glimpse the Wentworth Falls. Shockingly white against the green canopy, a sulfur-crested cockatoo gave a raucous call. It was incredibly captivating.

Back in Sydney, we had some great food. Like Melbourne, Sydney has some amazing Asian food. We sampled Malaysian cuisine, Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho. All of these are available in New York, but the food in Sydney had just a bit more of something we couldn’t quite put our fingers on. Authenticity, perhaps. We also took a long bus ride out to Watsons Bay and splurged on a fancy dinner at the famous Doyles seafood restaurant. Set on the water, looking back across the bay, diners can gaze at the distant roofs of the Sydney skyline, while sipping fine wine from the Barossa Valley and eating prawns and John Dory caught just a few miles away.

I cannot close without mentioning the beaches near Sydney as well. From New York, getting to the beach seems like a journey to the end of the Earth. The beaches in the city are littered with glass and needles, while the shores of Long Island and New Jersey take forever to reach with all the traffic. Sydney was different. I had the chance to visit 3 local beaches, each with its own character and all spectacular. I drove (yes, on the opposite side of the road) to Whale Beach, about an hour north of Sydney’s CBD, and found a quite spot where I could have a whole section of the beach to myself, watch the surfers get pounded by the waves and walk along the shore to the headland, where I picked up some great fossilized plants. Manly Beach was technically closed when we visited due to a strong riptide, but you never would have known with the number of surfers in the water, kids running around the beach and couples holding hands in the surf. I swam at Manly and was terrified by the giant waves. The restaurants there were too expensive and the service left something to be desired, but it was a fun beach day nonetheless. Finally, Bondi Beach is an iconic Sydney beach and we spent the day there doing what Australians do best – chilling at a beach bar with old and new friends for hours, commenting on outrageous sunburns (and getting some of our own).

Next time I visit Australia, I plan to leave the cities behind and hit the lesser known wonders in the far reaches of Queensland and Western Australia, but I’m glad that my first experience was with the cities. The comfort and ease of these places made the trip wonderful and has left me craving more ever since I have returned. I’ll definitely be back.

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P.S. There are still wallabies (shown above) and kangaroos in Australia too!