Spies in Boston

We walk hand in hand through the tight streets. The magic in the North End seems to rise from the granite slab sidewalks, our foot falls releasing it all as we ever so slowly grind down the grooves carved into their surface so long ago.

She is wearing a skirt, which seldom happens away up north on our island home. Shhh. She is blending in with the fabric of the city.

Passing for Urban.

We walk briskly, with purpose. Not ogling the old brick facades like so many, but stealing glimpses from the corner of the eye, remembering details to discuss later over the privacy of our dinner table.

We are not tourists with fanny packs and cameras on straps. Not obvious with outsized hats and backpacks bulging with swag. We pass like spies, changing our manner, moving like locals and step around the knots of lost sight seers ‘till we reach our goal:

“Two cannoli, please.

Gratzi.”

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A Sailor’s Rest House

The view out my early morning window was one of beautiful timelessness. The small village square two stories below me was quiet except for the sound of a distant highway and the cooing of pigeons. The rough cobblestone streets below undulated with the effort of hundreds of winters and the romanesque Catholic church opposite our building was undisturbed except for the elderly woman who appeared from a side street some time around six AM and disappeared behind it’s massive oak doors. Perhaps she did this every morning. The old brick sidewalks were silent and empty and the fresh, low rays of the sun briefly lit up corners that would likely be in shadow for the rest of the day. It was the epitome of Europe and expressed to me perfectly why I loved it so much.

Except I wasn’t in Europe. Just three weeks before, I could not have imagined that such a place existed so close to home.

“Absolutely not. There is no way that I’m okay with that. No way at all.”

I’m a pretty laid back guy and can usually be relied on to be agreeable to any hair brained adventure. I don’t put my foot down often but this was one of those rare times. Action Girl looked back at me with a, “That’s very sweet, but you worry too much” look on her face and told me that it was probably fine and that I was blowing things way out of proportion.

What she had proposed was spending the night in Boston. This was hardly something to strike terror in my heart. She and I had been loads of times, either together or on our own. We love Boston. What worried me deeply was where she was intending to stay… Alone.

As in, “With out me”.

She had been working as a longshoreman for a local ferry company for quite a few years now and had of late, bent her will to studying for her Captain’s license. She had worked her way up to Mate and now wanted to have the helm to her self. I was all for this and did my best to assist with studying and flash card quizzes over the dinner table. She had her sea time requirement fulfilled and had been studying her guts out with riveting tomes such as “Chapman Piloting & Seamanship” and other text books so dry that you needed to dump your water glass on them before attempting to read.

Now it was time to go take the test. That took place at the U.S. Coast Guard facility in Boston and the test started early in the morning, necessitating an over night stay. She told me about the discovery of a great, cheap place she could crash at, right down the street from the exam facility! She was intending to spend the night at place especially set aside for sailors and sailors only, right down on the waterfront. All I could picture was the flop house where Ishmael first encounters Queequeg, the tattooed behemoth when they had to share a bed. Action Girl is tough and all but as a concerned party for her well being, I had problems with this. I needed to know more about this house full of sailors, down by the wharfs before I was going to even entertain the possibility of her staying there alone. I’d find the money somewhere for a room at a real hotel.

As I dug for more information about this place, I started to feel a little better about it. The sailor’s home had apparently just had a major refitting in the last year. The rooms were private and the facility actually had a religious component that it was built on. The place is called the Mariner’s House and was established in the 1800’s as an alternative abode for sailors on leave to the whore houses and taverns . There are non-denominational religious services in the chapel, breakfast served on the premises, no drinking or smoking allowed in the building and absolutely no one other than proven sailors, their spouses or children allowed inside. No exceptions. I felt a lot better knowing this and relented in my opposition. Action Girl was kind enough to let me think that I had a say in this decision in the first place.

I was still a bit uneasy when she left but a phone call from her once she arrived put the last of my fears to rest. She took the test the next day, passed and it was official, I was married to a sea captain.

When she came back home, elated with her new hard won rank, she had glowing things to say about this place. We needed to plan a trip soon. A few weeks later, she returned with her hesitant husband and proceeded to check us in. It was actually quite rigorous. She needed to have proof that she was in fact, a sailor and then we needed to provide a copy of our marriage certificate to prove that she didn’t just pick me up from the Gigolo’s Home for Excessively Handsome Men.

Ok, that wouldn’t be hard to prove.

Once inside I was impressed with the simple antiquity of the place. The building dates from the early 1800’s and the architecture shows it. Huge, double hung windows open onto a European style village square where cars are few in the early day and the Italian language burbles up from the streets below as morning news is shared among locals. The high ceilings inside make the otherwise smallish rooms feel airy and the furniture, though simple, was new and comfortable. It was wonderful in every way. We were nestled in the heart of the North End. That night we had our pick of the fantastic restaurants down the street and finished off the night with cannoli from Modern (service with an attitude) Pastry. It was the perfect way to enjoy this corner of Boston.

We have since spent many more nights at the Mariner’s House, both as a couple and with our kids. Short Stack takes to city dwelling well and helps me make dessert runs to the pastry shop (I find that the service improves markedly with a well behaved two year old in tow). We only went once this summer and are hoping to make a trip again soon. We’ll leave the hoards of leaf peepers driving north and clogging the secondary roads while we pretend to be city folk for a weekend and do our best to blend in. For us, the Mariner’s House is the only place to stay. We wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere. We’ll see if our usual room is available, go out for a much appreciated Italian dinner and after our ricotta fix is taken care of, head back to that old sailor’s rest. Queequeg won’t be joining us I hope. It’s not really his type of place.

English well speached here.

About a month ago, my wife, two year old son and I went for a trip to the big city of Boston. I know by “big city” standards, Boston hardly rates, but for us it’s the BIG CITY. We tend to be quiet, country-type folk but every once in a while we need our cityfix and we head for Beantown. To us, it’s just the right size. Big enough to have some really cool things to do yet small enough to get around in easily. Most rides on the T (public transport) are 5 to 10 minute affairs and we’ve gotten to the point where we know our way around fairly well.

The other big draw for us is that we can take the commuter rail right into the city and it drops us exactly one stop on the subway away from our hotel. Driving to Boston is actually faster than taking the train and since I tend be like Luke Skywalker in the Death Star trench when I’m behind the wheel, I never minded tackling the dreaded Boston drivers. I actually find it kind of fun. My wife, who for the record, drives just as crazily as I do, has decided that the train is the way to go and having tried it, I have to agree with her. The primary reason for this is our two year old son, who I refer to as Short Stack. The train gives him a chance to move around and play with his beloved toy trucks and gives us the chance to drink overpriced beer and eat overpriced chicken salad, all while bumping along at 60 mph, enjoying the view of the back sides of department stores and warehouses. Honestly, I really liked it.

We stay at the same place every time we go. It’s one of those secret gems that’s tucked away and is nearly invisible to the average fanny pack wearer and to make it extra sweet, it’s inexpensive too. The best reason to go there though is that it’s right in the middle of the North End. That means Little Italy. THAT means, pastry. As Short Stack would say, “yummy, yummy pastry.” So, while Mom relaxed in the room and got us unpacked, Short Stack and I ambled over to the pastry shop. Again, we have our favorite and avoid the sugar coated vortex that is Mike’s Pastry. We passed Mike’s and the amoeba like crowd squirting through the doors and proceeded on to our smaller, lesser known shop. As we walk along, I listen to locals talking to each other in Italian and smile, I love this place! Once we make it inside our chosen pastry shop, I noticed that they did some remodeling. I also notice the signs that were put up warning would-be thieves about the security cameras. The signs made it nearly impossible for me to order my cannoli with a straight face.
on-premis.png

It’s amazing how by changing one word slightly it can change not only the meaning but the entire intent of a sentence. So what was the premiss? I know they meant premises, but I like this message much better. It makes a simple warning sign into a mini philosophy class. Some day, Short Stack will be old enough for me to point stuff like this out to him. He can then roll his eyes and remark about how weird I am and put on his best tortured teenage look. In the mean time though, he’s content to get roughly 65% of his ricotta cannoli in his mouth at once and the remaining 35% in his hair. I wonder if the shop owners would let me use their bathroom to clean him up… on premiss.

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