Boston, March 24. Her voice breaking and shaking with anger, a survivor of the massacre at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School addressed the crowd on Boston Common; “We are not special, we are not particularly articulate”. Leonor Munoz’ message was that she was an ordinary teenager at an ordinary school on an ordinary day and that what happened to her could happen in any high school on any main street in any town in America. The fun and anticipation of a teenage Valentine’s Day – she said a little about that – ended when she went outside in response to a fire alarm to be told “Code Red: Run”. Leonor’s older sister Beca, a student at Northeastern University spoke too – she received a text from her sister that day saying “Active Shooter on Campus – Do Not Call”. For the crowd of thousands on a grey end-of-winter afternoon clustered around the Common, straining to hear the speeches, that is the text, as one mother’s handmade sign said, that nobody ever wants to receive. Everyone can relate to what is becoming an all-too-ordinary story. Teacher and former Marine Graciela Mohamedi told the crowd: “The opposition will call you snowflakes. But do you know what in Massachusetts we call thousands upon thousands of snowflakes rising on a wind of change? We call that a blizzard!’
Like other cities, Boston has many fewer independent bookshops than it once did. But there is one still standing among the boutiques of Newbury St, the smartest shopping street in town. Trident Booksellers has been there since 1984 and it seems to be still going strong.
Paul Wiessmeyer, who I wrote about this week on my “Boson Blog” contacted me about this family of refugees who are hoping to be reunited Monday. On DECEMBER 18, a Turkish Airlines flight 1525 that originated in the Sudan, will land in Dusseldorf, Germany at 13.05 PM. Among the passengers will be an Eritrean mother and her four young sons, recently granted permission to leave a Sudanese refugee camp to be reunited with their father Asmerom in Germany. This will be the first time they see each other in four years.
A middle-aged man stands at a street corner waiting for his customers, wrapped up against the December chill. Master violinmaker Paul Wiessmeyer, along with several others, has been summarily evicted from a Harry-Potter-ish building in Boston’s music quarter.
The place, 295 Huntington Ave was easy to miss – you could walk past the unprepossessing entrance without guessing what was inside up the narrow staircase. Built as a hotel a century or so ago, it became a cultural ecosystem about 60 years ago. There was a symbiosis in its corridors where music students, performers and media types rubbed shoulders.
Leo perusing the shelves of Commonwealth Books
Will bookshops survive the digital revolution? Perhaps some of them may. There is a special pleasure in reading on paper, browsing real books, picking them up and gathering in a moment a sense of their heft and gravitas. This January, among other things, I plan to read more, and to read more weirdly and widely, rambling without the direction or the cognisance of algorithms.
So on a snowy Sunday afternoon shopping for dull household items in Boston’s January sales, my feet turned as they often do towards the alley that houses Commonwealth Books. It’s a fascinating second-hand bookstore which is also the residence of a large ginger cat named Leo. Leo reminds me of a real-life version of the fictional ‘Bagpuss’, a shop-dwelling cloth cat whose magical adventure were narrated by Oliver Postgate on the BBC when I was a child.
I laughed more in my short visit to the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) – than I can remember doing at an art gallery. But the experience was not only amusing; it helped me to reflect upon the curatorial process at work in all art galleries, and to reach a conclusion about the Frances Stark retrospective which is currently on show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. The current MOBA exhibition is entitled “doppelhanger” and features portraits which bear an intended or accidental resemblance to a famous person. My guide, Louise Reilly, pointed to “Sunday on the Pot with George” (above). This is one of my all time favorites. Pointillism is difficult. Why would anyone expend that much energy painting a middle-aged man in his tighty whities sitting on a toilet?” And look” she pointed to where the portrait ends, at the subject’s ankles, where either by accident or design the painter has avoided having to include those challenging feet.
Boston. Photo by Rob Bruce
Exploring the city of Boston, I have enlisted the help of a private eye. A six-foot-one ass-kicking redhead who moonlights as a part-time cabbie and roams the city night and day, rooting out the corruption which constantly reappears, always in a different form.
I was prompted to ask this question after meeting some start-up farmers in Massachusetts. They are interesting and unexpected entrants into a profession we are often told has a gloomy future: from a rock promoter to a Harvard educated bio-physicist.
Like other developed countries and the rest of the US, Massachusetts has a large number of farmers over the age of 65 with no identified inheritors. For 30 years, the number of entrants into farming was on the slide. However, over the last decade that has begun to change. It seems, farming is becoming cool again.
Jackie Kemp in Boston: Photo by Rob Bruce
“Large, hot Earl please,” the waitress yelled in a cafe this morning. I smiled, seeing in my mind’s eye a dashing peer of the realm with a twirling moustache, like a character from Blackadder, rushing out of the kitchen. But no, just a tepid tea in a paper cup. Spending time in Boston this week, where my husband is working, I have been reminded of the saying, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language”. At the library when the attendant said: “check your bag, please,” I opened it thinking she meant she wanted to look inside. But she meant it had to be put in a locker.