Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stay-cation -- Coldplay

Tonight I was off to see Coldplay with Duffy. A somewhat skeptical U2 fan, I was curious to see how legitimate the claim is that Coldplay is the "next U2". I am happy to say that while I enjoyed the show thoroughly, I really failed to see too many similarities. This band aims to please and will bend over backwards to do so. I found a fresh, almost unrehearsed quality to them, perhaps because they are younger and less experienced. But what I found most astounding was that this was an exceptionally well-designed setlist. The flow was near perfect, and if I had more conviction I would try to use it as a spinning ride!

Life In Technicolor
Violet Hill
In My Place
Speed Of Sound
Cemeteries Of London
Chinese Sleep Chant
Fix You
Strawberry Swing
God Put A Smile Upon Your Face (techno version)
Talk (techno version)
The Hardest Part (piano - Chris)
Postcards From Far Away (piano instrumental)
Viva La Vida
The Scientist (acoustic)
Death Will Never Conquer (acoustic - Will singing)
Viva La Vida (remix interlude)
Lovers In Japan
Death And All His Friends
The Escapist (outro)

Stay-cation -- Meeting John Kerry

As a chronic 9-5er, it seems that I always miss it when politicians and/or celebrities come through town. I either have meetings I can't change or deadlines I'm trying to hit and can't arrange to make it to see them. it just so happened this week though, that US Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Congressman John Tierney (D-MA) were speaking at the college where my mother works yesterday. So I decided to attend too.

I met Mom there and Kerry spoke for about 45 minutes on the current state of the economy and his thoughts on what went wrong and how to fix it. He actually gave a stimulating, fascinating discussion (oh, if he'd only been this charismatic four years ago....) When it was over and Mom headed back to class, I stuck around to have a chance to speak with him. I did manage a coherent conversation, shook his hand and thanked him for all he'd done for the State and the country. My brush with greatness.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stay-cation -- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

This morning found me driving down Route 93 to the other side of Boston to visit the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. It seems to me almost sacrilegious that I am a 30-something born and raised Bostonian yet have never visited this before. I've been on the other side of the parking lot several times to do ancestry research at the State Archive, but have never had the time to devote to the library. Today I would.

It is is one of those clear, crisp, almost beach-weather sunny fall days. The blue sky reflected itself on the water and as I got out of my car on the point where the library is, I could smell the salt-fresh air and feel the cool breeze right off the water. The building itself was designed by IM Pei (of Louvre Pyramid fame) and was finished in 1979. It is made of blinding white marble, black piping and glass. Against the deep blue of the sky and the cold indigo ocean behind it, it makes a stunning picture.

Proof that you have paid admission is a sticker that is a replica of a Kennedy campaign pin, the kind that my grandmother had in her jewelry box (albeit for Ike) and the one that has no clasp on the back and could poke you at will. The exhibitions lead the visitor through the basement level, which is set up to showcase the various stages of Kennedy's life, starting with the 1960 Democratic Convention.

If I may digress here, I found it staggering that his acceptance speech at that Convention, if you replace "Catholic" with "African-American" and "Communists" with "Al-Qaeda", would seem perfectly reasonable today if spoken by Barack Obama. This is particularly striking when Kennedy spoke of it being a "new and dangerous risk" to entrust the country to someone of his faith, that Americans must "exercise fair and free judgment" and not waste their vote for him or against him based on his religion. That that was a time for change, not a time to curse the darkness of previous administrations, but to light a candle there. Since I was not yet born in '60, I had no idea of the parallels and I have to wonder if those who remember it, are at all amazed by the similarities.

But back to the exhibits...I saw campaign paraphernalia, tapes of the debate with Nixon, tapes of the Inauguration and speech. There were many letters, photographs, place settings and gifts which dealt with how State dinners were organized and arranged by the First Lady. Jaquelyn Kennedy had most of the control over seating arrangements and guests list, the latter including notables such as John Steinbeck, WH Auden, Pearl Buck, Robert Frost. It seemed that the President and his wife had access to whomever they wanted for entertainment and as guests, and it also appeared that guests were grateful for the time they spent with the first family.

Of course there is a replica of the Oval Office as well as of Bobby Kennedy's office when he served as Attorney General. Smaller exhibits deal with mental retardation, Ireland, the Peace Corps and sailing, all of which are and were dear to the Kennedy family.

While the rest of the basement level is bright and white and well lit, the narrow corridor that deals with the assassination of the president is jet black with a half-dozen black and white televisions spooling news footage of the assassination, Walter Kronkite's poignant declaration that the President was killed, and footage from the funeral. From this hallway, the visitor moves on the legacy of Kennedy and his family.

Most interesting for me, perhaps, because I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, was an actual piece of the wall which the Kennedy family asked for from the German government. I was struck by the size and excellent condition of the piece of wall, which hearkens back to Kennedy's famous "I am a Berliner" speech in Berlin in June of 1963.

Upon leaving the museum, I walked around the back to take in the stunning view of the skyline of Boston from this side of Dorchester Bay. It is indeed impressive and indicative of the type of water-scene evocative of the Kennedys' own Cape Cod, which leads me to believe that that must be why this location was chosen.

Stay-cation 2008

Reporting in from Day Three of the stay-cation. You haven't missed much up until today. I think Days One and Two consisted mainly of about 23 hours of sleep, a spinning class, some laundry, a couple movies (nothing notable) and a dinner out.

Day Three saw the "cation" party of stay-cation kick into gear. Stay tuned for an update.

I have to say though, I could get used to this. Essentially it's a vacation where you: don't go to work but are still paid (obviously), sleep in your own bed, live out of your closet rather than a suitcase, know where you're going, can still see cat/family/friends at will (or not), but dare to try something different at home that you never have before. That's my goal for this week -- to do and see the things I've always meant to at home, but never have.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Looking back at Rome -- Bernini's Angels

Fans of Gianlorenzo Bernini’s art flock to the bridge that spans the Tiber River in Rome, connecting Castel Sant’Angelo with the historic center of the city. This bridge, known as the Ponte Sant’Angelo, or Bridge of Angels, is notable for the ten statues of angels which line either side of the bridge. The angels are thought to be Bernini’s style for certain, but research has shown that the angels are actually “from the studio of Bernini” and probably designed by, but most likely not sculpted by, Bernini himself.

Bernini’s commission called on him to display the angels each holding an item from the passion.

But the savvy travel researcher knows enough to dig just a bit deeper and find the two angel sculptures that probably were (alas, no one is certain) sculpted by Bernini and are housed within a house of worship just steps off the via del Corso. These two angels can be found in Sant’Andrea delle Fratte.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Looking back at Rome -- Ara Pacis

I was making the trek back from the Vatican-side of the Tiber to the historic center, when I noticed on my map that I was within blocks of Ara Pacis. Now you're probably saying to yourself "I know a lot of Rome and have never heard of Ara Pacis, or if I have, I hadn't given it a second though." Well, my friend, my advice to you is to put it on your "to do" list next time you're in Rome.

Ara Pacis is a beautifully restored altar of peace that was built around 13 BC to celebrate Augustus' victories abroad and the peace that followed them. The friezes along the walls show various people (in near-life size) from ancient Rome who are walking toward the west to celebrate the peace. The interior of the altar was used for the sacrifice of cows and other livestock in the name of this new-found peace.

The altar was originally closer to the Field of Mars, further south in the city. It was covered for hundreds of years by floodwaters and mud and was gradually rediscovered and identified by scientists familiar with Augustus' reign. Mussolini moved the altar to its current location, quite nearby the Mausoleum of Augustus, in an attempt to create a theme park of sorts in tribute to Augustus.

Today the altar is housed in an incongruously modern building that fills the interior with natural light and allows visitors on the inside to feel as if the altar is still outside.

Looking back at Rome -- Largo Argentina

It seems that people either seem to recognize this location as famous ruins or a cat sanctuary, when in reality it is very much both. About a 15 minute walk away from the Forum is Largo Argentina, a site of ancient ruins and most notably, the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

I found myself following the "Caesar Assassination walk" last year from the Forum to Largo Argentina. Like many other ruined sites in Rome, Largo Argentina lies in the midst of the bustling, modern city. Trollies, buses, traffic, commercial storefronts, daily 9-5ers all surround the acre or so of land that is set down under street level. What few ruins remain are hardly identifiable as "something" but from the notes on the Assassination walk tour, I noted the tree under which Caesar was supposedly stabbed (see above). There is a fairly good map of the location posted nearby which identifies what you might have seen if you were in the same spot nearly 2000 years ago.

But also under the sidewalk is the Roman Cats Sanctuary, which tends to the hundreds of cats who make their homes amidst the ruins, with the hope that some, if not all, will be eventually adopted. While I love ruined Rome, I love cats more, and I found myself emptying my pockets to support the cats, all the while fighting back tears as I remembered my four footed "son" back at home.

Roman Cats Sanctuary accepts donations and allows you to "adopt" a cat from a distance. After my morning spent visiting its residents, I'm eager to share its good work amidst this historic site with my readers.

Celebrating what almost was -- Rome Trip II

Now that I've almost recovered from the sting of having my airfare unceremoniously canceled (and not rerouted) for my trip to Rome next week, I've decided that leading up to my now-non-Italian vacation, I am going to use the blog to celebrate some of the moments of my trip from last year, highlighting the things that stand out for me a year later and pointing out some of the more interesting, lesser discussed aspects of the city.

It's therapeutic for me, so sit back and enjoy!