Archive | History RSS feed for this section

Poland, Boston, and the Human Spirit

23 Apr

Poland was mainly a blur of food, sleep deprivation, drinks, people, and brightly colored buildings.  Krakow is called the Magic City for a reason. There is something to it that as a tourist, I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The city at night, I would compare to even the bright lights of Paris.  Tourists and locals alike strolled the city into the pink hours of the morning, laughing and filling the air with vibrancy. The life there seems to have actual quality. But I found myself most impressed with the people I met on this journey.

The people of Poland have a hospitality all their own. People genuinely wanted to meet you, speak with you, and like their European cousins–feed you.  The people I met while in Krakow, returned my ability to communicate face-to-face. For so long, I’ve been attached to the computer screen or my cell phone and in the States it is not uncommon to sit across from someone while you’re out to dinner and have nearly no conversation. Instead, there is a wall of cellphones between you both as you take turns surfing the web on your smartphones and exchanging minimal conversation. In Krakow, I felt a sense of intelligence return to me that I had thought I had lost completely. As it turns out, it had never left–but had simply gone into hibernation and  needed to be woken up.  Conversation ranged from music, to politics, to sports (which I know nearly nothing about) to the more complex issue of languages and how they may or may not translate. I was alive. Krakow revived me.

In five days, I experienced more powerful moments in my life than I had in months. This was even more amplified by my visit to the concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau on my last day in Poland. Though most people will flinch away from a difficult trip like this: I sought it out. More than ever, I feel that keeping the horrors of history alive so they are not repeated and so the lives lost in such an awful way are given their proper respect and recognition.

The camps were  overwhelming. A sense of feeling watched or hunted pervaded Auschwitz. My friend who had joined me looked faint much of the time, if not downright sick to her stomach. Openly, she wept for the loss of life while I stoically paid my respects to the lives lost. The place gets under your skin in a way I’ve never experienced before. It felt alive.

Birkenau felt more sad than alive. Abandoned bunks lay in places that had been built to house horses and instead housed starving, sick and dying human beings. The remains of the destroyed crematoriums sat like craters in the landscape that may have been otherwise beautiful. Our guide pointed out a family of deer that grazed nearby as if to prove this point and stated, “See how life must go on?” There is a large stone memorial here which is littered with tiny stones as a sign of respect. I left these places with a whole new perspective on the problems in my life. My problems were nothing. I was not starving. I was not being torn from my family, or watching loved ones be gassed, shot or beaten to death. I was not wondering if I would see another day, or live beyond barbed wire fence. I was alive. And I would embrace that blessing with all that I had. I left the camp with a need to celebrate my being alive–if for nothing more than to live in the place of those who had never had the chance. And for the ones who survived and still managed to live (almost) normal lives. These places reflect not only the power of humanity’s cruelty–but of their spirit and will to survive.

The stranger part of visiting the camps was what it coincided with here in the states. I didn’t know it yet, but my city was under attack at the very moment I was touring these Death Camps. The Boston Marathon Bombings have been plastered on every news channel here in Massachusetts ever since it happened. I found out what happened in Boston, a day after it happened. In a panic I found myself reaching out to loved ones for assurance that they were alright.  The city of Boston came together as one in a way that makes me proud. Here, in today’s history I witnessed the power of the human spirit that I had sought out at the historical sites.  It is something that I never imagined would happen. Only this time, when terror struck we charged it head on. Stories continue to come out about every day people who became not-so-everyday Heroes. A dancer who lost her foot, continues to hope to dance again, a man who lost both sons to war–saved others who would have been lost in much the same way. I am alive again–and grateful, and amazed by the ever powerful presence in the past and now in the present of the strength of the human spirit. Just as when I exited the camps in Poland, I find myself constantly humming the tune from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life…to life…L’Chaim…”

Boston Strong

Poland Strong

Memories of the Marshfield Fair and a T.K.O’Malley’s Review

26 Aug

My earliest memory of the Marshfield Fair– which has been a tradition in the county since the 1800’s– is a memory that I attach to my great grandmother, Noni. I can’t exactly remember how old I must have been when she first began to take me, but I could guess roughly eight or nine–as I specifically remember not being tall enough to peek into the Clydesdale horse stalls to see them, without help or without pulling myself up by the bars of their stalls. I also remember the Bee keeper stalls, which even now as I am in my twenties continues to fascinate me for reasons that I can’t quite pinpoint. Noni had always been fascinated too. Together we would tromp the Fairgrounds, riding on the rides I was tall enough to squeak on and waving to Noni as I gleefully swung round, and round on them. I even remember that she would pay for me to play at least one game at the Fair to try to win a prize–but I never remember ever winning.

Noni passed roughly three years ago, and she and I hadn’t been to the Fair together for many years before that. For the first time in roughly twelve years last night; I went to the Marshfield Fair. It’s funny how memories come back so quickly and with such force when certain sights, smells and sounds overtake you. It was as if I were small again, and she was leading me around pointing at the prize winning animals, and giving me bites of cotton candy and various tasty fair foods. Her ghost seemed to linger with me for the whole night as I chatted with my friend and his family. I felt a small almost child-like joy as the lights of the Fairgrounds came to life, voices spiraling, laughing and screaming as we passed rides, vendors calling out to people as they passed by to tempt them into winning prizes full of sawdust. One prize I did stop to try my hand at winning–was a live Goldfish. I knew it was a rip-off and that I could buy a goldfish of my own at a pet store if I wanted, probably for less than what it was costing me to try to win one, ($5 for a bucket of ping-pong balls) but it was the excitement of the idea. The sense of old-time charm that drew me to it. And I happily won. Proudly, I displayed my prize–a fat orange Goldfish in a bag, swimming excitedly in a circle–to my friend who snapped a trophy photo of sorts for proof. I knew Noni would have smiled.

My Prize!

Posing with my Goldfish Prize at Marshfield Fair

In entirety, this weekend gave me back a sense of myself that I felt had been missing lately. I woke up this morning to a gorgeous day, and another friend waiting in the wings for an adventure to Scituate. Off we went, stopping only for an ATM, Gas and a quick car wash, we drove into the center of town where the charm of a seaside town has a heavy hold, and people milled about looking pleasant in their Sunday best. It was a sleepy sort of day, and the town moved at a pace that suited this. We wandered past the harbor at first, soaking in the smell of the ocean that I had missed all summer, before heading for lunch at a place called T.K O’Malleys.

T.K O’Malley’s had a typical sort of Irish Pub feel, but with the bonus of having the option of being able sit on the outside patio overlooking the bright, breezy harbor. Entering the restaurant was at first slightly confusing, as there are doorways to the left and right of you when you first walk in–luckily to the left we spotted a cluster of Hostesses sporting blue TKO’Malley’s t-shirts, hovering over the hostess stand and made our way that way. I held my hand up with two fingers, which in any restaurant would generally indicate table for two, but here only got me slightly blank stares, a chomp on what I hoped was gum in one girl’s mouth, and a mumbled, “Inside or out” from one of the hostesses that had her back to us. I looked to my friend for confirmation, and luckily he confirmed we wanted to be outside as I had barely managed to hear what had been asked. The hostesses then handed us a small slip of white paper that read, “Patio Voucher” and told us to head out to the patio. This was somewhat irritating to me. I had worked as a Hostess at Fenway park for a short while,  so I know that  it is the job of a good Hostess to greet customers, direct them to the appropriate table, ask if they need anything else, and alert the waitstaff that they have a new customer. These girls (who were only busy chatting at the hostess stand) did not guide us to the patio door–they only laughed and told us, “Any door out.” and waved us aside. It felt lazy and unwelcoming. Not a good start.

Once we got out to the patio, the confusion continued. More hostesses in blue shirts at another hostess stand clustered, staring blankly at us as we handed them the slip of paper the previous hostesses had handed us inside. The girls asked us how many again, to which we answered two, one scurried around the patio looking at the few vacant tables before coming back looking confused. Then one of them asked us to wait as they went inside, conceivably to interrogate the other hostesses about us. There were just way too many hostesses, and not enough communication. Finally a hostess returned and asked if five or ten minutes would be okay–to which we agreed. By this time we were slightly frustrated. Why had the indoor hostesses not been informed of a wait time for the outside? There appeared to be more than enough of them to run messages, and inside it seemed to be slow.Luckily, it was   only roughly two minutes for a wait and we were promptly seated at a table with an umbrella and menus.

Our waiter was the best service we had received since we entered the restaurant. He arrived straightaway with his clipboard to take our drink orders, (card us for said drinks as I constantly look underage) and scurry off to the bar to bring them back. The beer selection was fair, and my companion and immensely enjoyed sipping them with the cool breeze off of the water and the warm sunlight on our skin as we browsed our menus. The food was mainly a selection of pub foods–and not much to write home about. Though they did appear to have a varied selection of “University” themed burgers. Should I ever return there–I will probably investigate these. The main draw of TKO’ Malley’s has to be it’s prime waterside spot.  As we were waterside, I craved fish and took part in their Cape “COD” Ruben sandwich, which was a cod filet on rye with thousand island dressing, coleslaw and a slice of cheese. The portions were HUGE and I only managed to finish half of the sandwich but it wasn’t bad. The dressing and slaw were tasty, though the fish seemed a little mushy and was probably less fresh than I would have hoped. What the fish lacked–the slightly toasted bread made up for in crunch and flavor. My friend and I also shared a basket of sweet potato fries which were served with Maple syrup–but I wouldn’t recommend having these with the Syrup. The fries are delicious on their own–and unless you’re a big  Maple Syrup person–the Syrup overpowers the fries taste.

Prices were fair when the bill came, and we tipped our friendly and helpful waiter well. We were pointedly ignored by all of the hostesses on our way out. I couldn’t help but think of how easy it would have been to dine and dash had I been that sort of person. They wouldn’t have even noticed us.

All and all, the day was wonderful and easy-paced. Full of winding seaside roads, looming gorgeous houses, and even a stop at a historical lighthouse. I returned home sleepy but full of a bubbling happiness that only a day near the shore can bring.

 

 TKO ‘Malley’s website link in case you would like to check it out for yourself.

More information on the Marshfield Fair.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith A Novel Review

11 Jun

Four score and a few months ago, while awaiting the showing of The Hunger Games–I discovered what film I wanted next to see. While my girlfriends gawked excitedly at the preview for Titanic in 3D (and I grimaced, recognizing my old foe that caused my still deeply ingrained fear of sailing…) I found myself instead in awe of the trailer that followed it: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I felt my nerdiness rise to the surface to gasp asthmatically. No, that, was a movie worth seeing. Something old–made new. Not just with 3D slapped into it! An entirely unique concept.

It was later to my great joy that I was told that this movie that looked both absurd and would feed my inner nerd, was also a book. So that’s when I found myself tumbling toward the book store, eager to get my hands on a copy. It did not disappoint.

Created by the author who is known for, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this dark fact-ion kept my pouring through the pages. I couldn’t put it down. Which was a pleasant surprise.

When I started reading the novel, I at first worried that it would be too factual to be interesting–but I was so wrong. This novel’s beauty lies in its well-researched narration of the life of one of our nation’s most infamous presidents, Abe Lincoln. What feels like common knowledge about this man: that he started off in a poor family, that his life was riddled with loss and passion, and that he stood as a symbol of freedom for all men regardless of color is painted in a close, very personal way that makes (a usually dull subject for me) history interesting.Where do the vampires come in–you ask? Well, where it makes sense of course.

Abe and our readers are introduced to the concept of those blood-sucking demons, vampires, from the very beginning. As history tells, a strange unidentified illness takes Abe’s mother from him when he is very young. Grahame-Smith is clever enough to take advantage of the plot holes that history has left him, and plugged in the only “logical” answer–vampires. A vampire gives Abe’s mother a “fool’s dose” of vampire blood, killing her painfully as vengeance for his father’s unpaid debt. Abe never seems able to forgive his father for this. Nor vampires of course. And thus begins our story.

The reader is guided through Abe’s difficult life in a very factual way, making some of the fiction difficult to separate from the fact. (Sometimes it’s not–and it’s just plain hilarious.) We encounter Abe’s view of Slavery throughout his life (and mind you, he is never fond of it.) But upon discovering that the slave trade is literally feeding the vampire population, Abe’s resolve to end slavery (and by extension vampires) is solidified.

I absolutely recommend picking this up if you like fact-ion. (And non sparkly-vampires.)

Look forward to seeing my review of the movie which premiers June 22nd!

“I must endure. I must be more than I am. I must not fail. I must not fail her.”

An Outing for the History Books

13 Mar

Lame as it might sound, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Boston?

It might be the Commons:the expansive tree-lined gardens smack-dab in the heart of the city, or it might be the trains that run like a heartbeat beneath the streets–but for me–Harvard always comes to mind. That’s right. Harvard. The beautiful, old brick-lined hallowed halls of learning. I mean, they don’t ask Bostonians to say “Harvard yard” for nothing

Even though I know I’m nowhere near  a Harvard-level of schooling, there is something refreshing about strolling the school grounds this time of year. People mill about as a jumble of students, tourists and oddballs like me who just seem lost through the slowly greening yards. Professors looking scattered and hurried storm through crowds like angry rhinos, scattering people like terrified birds.

Harvard is a rare stop for me, making yesterday a particularly rare treat. An invitation from my boyfriend and his friend, Steve, to the Harvard Museum of Natural History was intriguing enough to draw me past my usual Park Street Station stop right after work. In the confusing rabble of Harvard station, they awaited me, and together we traveled through Harvard Square and into the inner courtyards of Harvard College.  Steve led the way, having visited this place before, and we were quickly at our destination.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is at 26 Oxford Street in Cambridge. It is a tall, pointed brick building (though short in comparison to most other buildings around it) with bold brass letters stating “Harvard Museum”. Upon entering, you are first greeted by two fossilized skeletons on either side in the foyer. Straight ahead are the desks to get in, and after paying $7 with our student Id’s: we were on our way to the third floor. A freakishly tall skeleton, bird in appearance ( reminding me immediately of Kevin from Up ) greets visitors as they reach the landing.The bird from Pixar's Up You appear to be in the gift shop first, making things feel a little backward. As the boys had a mission for their Bio class, I was given free reign to explore as I saw fit while they furiously scribbled answers on question sheets.

If you’re like me, and you’re fascinated by animals (living or dead) then this place is for you. If not, well–don’t bother.I was amazed at the range of animal specimens on display. Extinct and living, big and small–all were presented in tasteful and informative displays throughout the many halls.

If you are an animal rights activist–please do not visit this museum. It will horrify you.

Frankly, I was surprised by how not-bothered I was by the countless numbers of taxidermy and pickled animals on display once curiosity set in. Bats in all arrays of size and characteristics were pinned up to display species variations. Beside them, beautiful and colorful insects, jarred lizards and brightly colored birds. One entire room seemed to be more like a large hunting trophy room, filled with animals that almost still felt alive as their plastic eyes followed your from their glass cases. Their sizes ranged from sparrows and mice to elephants and even a towering male giraffe.

My favorite hall by far though, was filled with bones. Fossils to be exact. Not just of dinosaurs (though there were a few) as is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of fossils, but also of former mammals. A particularly large extinct sloth skeleton gave me chills, just from the sheer size of the creature. And I was in awe at their nearly complete skeleton of Kronosaurous, a whale-like dinosaur-ish creature. I was disappointed that we had come so late in the day, and I couldn’t take more time to go through the place. But all and all, I was pleased with the visit.

If you’re looking for a cheap, brain-building, quiet day out: I would definitely recommend the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s to die for! (har-har)