Thursday, June 30, 2016

The valley of the shadow of death, near and far

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ...

So reads Psalm 23 in the the King James Version, and so it was read at last night's vigil for Amanda Phillips. Here's more ...

I started this whole post with a musing on her vigil. And then I added another one. Two vigils for people killed in Cambridge over the last few days.

Amanda's was the second vigil. The first took place on Tuesday in the Port neighborhood where Anthony Clay was shot and killed over the weekend.

She was the cyclist killed by a truck while riding through Inman Square last week.

To put it mildly, these are a time to pause and reflect.

At her vigil, a ghost bike painted white, wreathed in flowers, was strapped to a post. Candles strewn at its feet. A pastor led us song and prayer. People spoke of her memory. I didn't know her but as a fellow biker, there is a personal component to her death. Run over by a truck while riding her bike. There but for the grace of God ... That sort of thing.

The vigil for Clay was on Tuesday, starting with a meeting at the Margaret Fuller House and then a walk down Harvard Street to the place where he was shot. I didn't know Clay either, and I regret not getting down to the meeting and the walk. The Port is a richly diverse community, one of the best in Cambridge, and it has faced its share of gun-related traumas over the past year. I wish I'd taken more time out my day.

Even in Cambridge, death visits us in these ways.

But this grim posting doesn't end there. Today is also the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, a World War I slaughterhouse. I am reminded of this by my friend Anthony, who wrote recently that his grandfather was killed on the first day of fighting, July 1, 1916, along with 16,000 other British soldiers. Ponder that for a moment. 16,000 soldiers in a single day. The battle lasted until November of that year.

In the wake of Brexit, these recessed family memories of the British and the French and the Germans must loom even larger. There was a reason Europe joined together in the first place, they seem to say, and they add, "Never more." I suspect the recent Remain vote included the disquieting chill of the shadow of death hovering over their national shoulder, neither here nor gone. And then the admonition, Never more.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ABC holds its summer meeting, quick wrap-up

A Better Cambridge held its summer meeting at the Senior Center in Central Square last night, with Alex Twining and Bob Flack of Twining Properties talking about their project at Mass + Main.

Jesse Kanson-Benanav talks to another full house at an ABC meeting

It's a presentation Twining has given before, so people familiar with the project will already know about their desire to think about housing along Bishop Allen Drive, but community outreach will play a big role in their strategy going forward.
Alex Twining presenting on Mass + Main
They shared some of the complexities of their project, including the challenges of coordinating with the city of Cambridge on their underground parking, which has to be situated such that massive flood storage tanks can be located nearby. Other engineering challenges include avoiding the Red Line tunnels, which run under Massachusetts Avenue. The building does represent many retail possibilities on the ground floor, and their partnership with Graffito should be helpful in finding the right mix for that.

Also on last night's agenda was Patrick Barrett, who is proposing zoning changes for Central Square based on the C2 recommendations, an idea that ABC will examine further as we move through the summer.
Patrick Barrett talking about his zoning ideas for Central Square

Finally, ABC head Jesse Kanson-Benanav spoke about his recent trip to Colorado to attend the YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) conference, which he described enthusiastically and showed a video.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Those strange stained glass windows in Central Square are about to go. Here is their story.

Have you ever wondered about those strange stained glass windows at 415-425 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square? 

You know the ones, they are set in the the tiny slits in the brick wall facing on to the street. 

They depict a flower store, people eating around a table, a pharmacy. 

Well, enjoy them now because they are about to disappear. The Quest building that has housed them for the past two and a half decades is slated for demolition later this year to make room for the Mass + Main project, and that means Cambridge will lose one of its most interesting and bizarre treasures, one that has greeted pedestrians and prompted questions in the square for a generation.

The Quest Building, Central Square, soon to come down

The windows owe their existence to two men, Lyn Hovey and the late Dr. Richard Fennell. Hovey is the stained glass artist who created them. Fennell was an Cambridge entrepreneur and businessman who commissioned and paid for them. 
Lyn Hovey, creator
As Lyn Hovey explained it in a phone conversation, Fennell founded Bioran in the early 1960s, a company that specialized in clinical laboratory testing for hospitals and physicians, and located it in Central Square. In the late 1980s, Fennell was receiving criticism from some quarters that Bioran had created an industrial pall by taking over the old Central Square Cinemas that had formed the backbone of the community for years prior, showing long-running favorites like "King of Hearts."

In an effort to address it, Fennell commissioned Hovey to create the windows, a gift of public art for the community paid out of Fennell's own pocket. This was in the early 1990s and Hovey remembers the decision as a bold and generous one, noting that this wasn't a "1% for Art" effort. This was a privately funded commitment by a philanthropist enlivening the public realm.

Fennell as patron put no restrictions on Hovey. The themes depicted in the glass would be Hovey's to decide. So using his knowledge of the neighborhood that he had gathered from his years of living nearby, he set out to convey the variety of experience in Central Square, the local florist, the soda fountain. Hovey remembered the strong West Indian presence in the Square at the time and the stained glass also depicts the diversity of the multi-cultural community in Central. However, these are not actual places that existed. The come from Hovey's imagination alone.

By the time he started on this project, the Cleveland native was no stranger to Cambridge, having arrived in 1965 to work in the Burnham Studios in Boston. He decided in 1972 to branch out on his own and opened Lyn Hovey Studios at Concord Avenue and Appleton Street in Cambridge. Though he was in this Concord Avenue shop for many years, the windows that now adorn Central Square were actually created in his South Boston studio on Drydock Avenue.

The shop in Cambridge where Hovey had his studio for many years

So, what will happen to these pieces next? Hovey was very clear that these windows are works of art and of value. Religious stained glass interestingly but understandably is difficult to resell because it is often so specific to the tastes of the congregation at the time of its creation. Secular stained glass doesn't have the same constraint. Hovey reiterated that these frames cost a lot to make and they could be sold for a lot too. Most of all, he felt strongly they should not end up in a scrap heap somewhere.

That will be up to the Twining development team when they decide their fate at the time of the building's demolition. The Twining team is aware of the windows and have indicated that they will not be thrown out. These wonderful, quirky pieces have adorned and enlivened Central Square in ways both amusing and mysterious. A small subchapter in Cambridge is about to close, and it will be interesting to see how the next one begins.

The windows ...

[Note/correction: The original version of this article reported that these windows were fabricated in Lyn Hovey's studio on Concord Avenue in Cambridge. That is incorrect. The windows were fabricated in his studio on Drydock Avenue in South Boston. The text has been corrected to reflect this.]

Monday, June 27, 2016

And the deadly list continues ...

Meanwhile, America's love affair with guns and its killing spree continued over the weekend ...

  • 1 dead, 3 injured - shooting at pool party in Houston, TX
  • 3 dead - in a moment of true insanity, a mother kills her two daughters and then is killed by police when she refuses to drop her gun, in Fulshear, TX (suburb of Houston). She was a strong gun rights advocate, and posted this on her Facebook page on March 2: “It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.” Uh, you're insane, lady. Or to be more accurate, you were insane.
It is also worth asking, "What's the matter with Texas?" 

In the 22 shootings that I have listed so far in my "Deadly List" posts over the past month, shootings going back to 1991, six of the incidents are in Texas. My list is in no sense comprehensive or complete. It represents only the news stories that I see on my morning news feed, but still, for a state that represents 8.5 percent of the total U.S. population, Texas is leading my "deadly list" list by appearing in 27 percent of the incidents.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

America's deadly list continues

Meanwhile, in other news, America's love affair with guns and its non-stop killing spree continued last night with 6 reported dead and multiple injured in various shootings around the country. 

  • 1 dead - Cambridge, MA 
  • 3 dead, 2 injured - District Heights, MD
  • 2 dead, several injured - Fort Worth, TX

But it's not all bad news out there. At least one of our presidential candidates is wooing our most important English-speaking ally with his wit, wisdom and charm ... and his love of golf.

Tennis anyone?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: Brexit

It's a Friday, and the world is not dull.

Let's start at the top, Brexit.

Now that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union by a 52 to 48 percent vote in favor of departure with over 70 percent of voters casting ballots, the world has a new political reality to digest.

As one might forecast, the broad vote splintered into smaller groupings. Geographically, cities tended to prefer the EU while the more rural areas along with Britain's older industrial base voted to leave. Young people said "stay" while older people chose "go." These divisions are not unknown on these shores either. Young urban affluents have greater confidence in and preference for an open, interconnected future while their older counterparts have come to rely on known truths, on simple answers and on "the way things were" before others showed up. There is a whiff of the 1930s in all of this, which is both fascinating and disturbing at the same time.

The biggest losers, however, are the British people since at the end of the day they will be poorer, more isolated, weaker globally and less influential in Europe. Scotland is soon to call the question on Scottish independence, and given the example they've just seen, there can be little doubt that Scottish voters will chose to leave Britain so that they can remain in the EU. That leaves Ireland. Now, a canny Irish politician with an anti-British bent could pose a similar question in Ireland about the unification of the North and the South. The actual mechanics of that vote would be complex, but a "yes" there would leave England all by itself, alone, isolated and small. Very very small.

The next biggest loser is the EU, which has just lost a key partner with a long global presence and an important relationship with the United States. After it comes Prime Minister David Cameron, who lost the election and therefore loses his job. He has announced to the Queen that he'll be gone by October.

Which brings us to the winners and so to Boris Johnson, who may be the biggest winner of the day (Nigel Farage looks like a fascist with bad teeth, which is a double bad combo not worth talking about here). Why Johnson thinks Brexit is a good idea is beyond me, but amongst conservatives, he is being talked about as the likely Cameron replacement. As we know, Johnson is loud, bombastic and a former mayor of one of the world's most important cities.

In Britain, ruling elites intermingle in strange ways. You might even say they intermarry. Johnson and Cameron shared time at Oxford together, and shared a drinking club as well, known as Bullingdon. As a gesture of his marital passive aggression, Boris shoved his old Buller drinking bud David out of the loo so he can relieve his bladder of all its toxic bile and then with one easy push, flush their country down the drain.

Oxon. Bullingdon, 1987. Spot your PMs

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

America's deadly list

Some lists you shouldn't have to write, but some lists just come to mind. Here are two terrible ones ...

Deadly shootings in America in the last 25 years (from BBC):

  • 49 dead - 53 injured - Orlando, FL (2016)
  • 9 dead - 1 injured - Charleston, SC (2015)
  • 14 dead - 21 injured - San Bernardino, CA (2015)
  • 27 dead - 2 injured - Sandy Hook, CT (2012)
  • 12 dead - 70 injured - Aurora, CO (2012)
  • 13 dead - 4 injured - Binghamton, NY (2009)
  • 13 dead - 32 injured - Fort Hood, TX (2009)
  • 32 dead - 17 injured - Virginia Tech, VA (2007)
  • 13 dead - 23 injured - Columbine, CO (1999)
  • 23 dead - 20 injured - Killeen, TX (1991)

And let's just add to this some of the gun deaths and injuries reported by local news in this month alone (June 2016) ...

  • Various shootings in Chicago, June 11-12 (IL) - 7 dead - 35 injured
  • Christina Grimmie, June 11 (FL) - 2 dead
  • UCLA shooting, June 1 (CA) - 3 dead
  • Suspect shot and killed in Walmart, June 13 (TX) - 1 dead
  • Shooting in Cambridge, June 12 (MA) - 1 injured
  • Shooting in Farmington, June 12 (CT) - 3 injured

Ummm ... Kind of at a loss for words here. Not really sure where to start ... but breaking our addiction to guns might not be a bad first step.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Restaurant review. Juliet

New restaurants are a very good barometer of the demographic future of a neighborhood. What's on the menu? How clean is the place? Who's eating here? There's a story contained in every plate of tapas and in every microbrewed ale, and Union Square is a prime example.

The causes for Somerville's newest "hipster central" are both regional and local. The anticipated arrival of the Green Line combined with new zoning put in place by the city along with the severe escalation of housing prices in Cambridge have all played a role. But to see the actual changes on the ground, you've got to look more closely. 

I had the chance to do just that today when I stopped by Juliet, a restaurant housed in the old Sherman Cafe space on Washington Street right in the heart of Union Square. 

I'm not even sure "restaurant" is the right term. It's clearly a lunch place, but is there sufficient demand beyond that? 

Stark, white, clean, with open kitchen behind the counter, light, bright, airy. Walking in, the words that immediately came to my mind were, "Painfully hip." I'm sure that's too judgmental, but first impressions matter and those were mine.  I wouldn't say Juliet is striving to please a type of customer. I would say Juliet is accurately reflecting the type of customer that eats there.

I ordered a Nicoise Salad and sat off at a white counter to wait. My salad was good, if slightly unconventionally Nicoise, but I find no fault there. Trying to reinvent that tired old lunchtime standby is a good thing. Olives, gherkins, branzino and the egg hadn't been mercilessly boiled to a fare-thee-well. The dressing was however unimpressionable. All of this was brought to me on a round metal pizza disk for $12.

My take-away assessment ... 6.5 out of ten on the scale of wonderliciousness.

The question lingering in my mind, the question that lingers with all food venues -- does Juliet have all the pieces rightly aligned to succeed? Food is a notoriously rough world to make a living in. Restaurants more often fail than not, for reasons often out of their control.

Nicoise salad

Obviously, good enough to eat ... all of it
I don't know the answer to my own question, but my guess is Juliet will need some reinventing of herself if she is going to be part of Union Square through the coming decade. Straddling somewhere between a Clover and a coffee shop, she may be neither fish nor fowl at the moment. 

What's funny about all of it, and what makes me feel old, is that I remember when Juliet's predecessor, the Sherman Cafe, was new. It too was a harbinger of changes just commencing but still a decade away. Sherman was a little more grunge, a little less clinically disinfected. It was what counted as hip just before computers dominated every aspect of our lives.

As I reread these paragraphs, I realize this story is nothing more than a tale about changing times and new generations. In other words, it's the never changing story.

Union Square, Somerville. It may not look that way yet, but it's changing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I am thinking of Al Gore this morning

I am thinking of Al Gore this morning. A man of talent, ambition, drive and a willingness to serve, he dedicated his life to being in the public eye and trying to impact the world. His desire to succeed was apparent as a student at Harvard, as a soldier in Vietnam, and when he started running for office way back in 1977, a 29 year old candidate and then Congressman. Along the way, he moved from callow youth to statesmanly, including his concern for the planet and our environment. But he never quite had that special electoral something. Perhaps he was just too damn eager, or too damn earnest.

Al Gore, forever the bridesmaid, never the bride. The 2000 presidential election was historic but not for the reasons he was hoping. I am sure it is with particularly mixed emotions that he watches his former boss's wife garner the delegates needed to become the Democratic nominee.

As late as May of this year, he refused to endorse her. Perhaps the bitter taste of defeat curdled his tongue, or had familiarity bred some contempt? If it's the latter, I must confess, I share some of it. Hillary's $12,000 jacket reminds me of Bill's $200 haircut. Remember that? Oh Clintons, we were lost, but now we are found. You have come home again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

I went down to New York this weekend

I went down to New York this weekend.

There are two things that always impress me about the city. One is the sheer urbanness of it, the crazy vibrancy and noise and the crush of people everywhere. The other is the art. So much art everywhere too. This of course includes the Met, MOMA, the Frick, the Guggenheim. But is also includes the galleries, Gagosian, PACE, and so many others.

So here are some photos of my time there, a random but not comprehensive assortment, with cars from the awesome Classic Car Club of Manhattan thrown in for good measure.


By way of raw urbanity, way west, near the opening of the Lincoln Tunnel, you see this ...

Odd little building, throwback to an earlier time

Infrastructure, baby!

Croatian Center, in the middle of nowhere, but that's about to change

Empire State, obligatory

A lovely building overlooking the river

Heading across the park, Central Park West ...

And here's some art from the Richard Serra show at the Gagosian, and other items from the Met ...


Serra, again

Serra, a third time

Just another Hellenistic rape scene, this time, a satyr and a hermaphrodite, at the Met

The always-youthful Caesar Augustus, at the Met

The Met imitating an Escher

Here are some great cars from the Classic Car Club of Manhattan, which sits out on the Hudson River in an old United States Lines shed at about 35th Street. A very magical location. I enjoyed meeting Zac Moseley too, who is one of the founders of the place ...

Ford GT (2005 version), AC Cobra, Audi Quattro (?)

The beautiful McLaren 570S

Old Porsche, more info, I don't have

Old Pontiac Firebird and new Corvette Z06

Porsche Cayman GT4 and new Mazda MX5

1966 Ford Mustang

I did my best to end this day in the manner of a good street photographer, by sitting on the top steps of the Met and snapping some photos of people as they walked by ...

And one final very New York one, for good measure ...

Read the T-shirt. 'Nuf said.