December 2007


demi and large

Don’t believe Leslee‘s talk about psychoactive substances, crack houses, and chocolate highs. Yes, the newly remodeled (and reopened!) L.A. Burdick Cafe in Harvard Square, Cambridge might be “a veritable meth lab of the psychoactive cocktail that is chocolate,” but Leslee is a mere dabbler in the dark art that is dark chocolate, drinking a tiny demitasse yesterday afternoon while I downed a large. Yes, I’m a heavy user: my name is Lorianne, and I’m a hot chocoholic.

Taxi stand

While we imbibed a beverage that doesn’t need alcohol to be intoxicating, Leslee and I talked about many things, one being our similar experiences moving closer to Boston proper. Now that Leslee lives in Belmont and I spend at least four days a week (sometimes more) in Newton, we both are finding it much easier to have a social life. If I were currently in Keene and Leslee were still living in Grafton, we each would have had to drive over an hour to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate in Cambridge…and then we each would have come down from our respective cups on our long individual drives home. Instead, last night’s Burdick’s run involved me grabbing a book to read and my Charlie card, walking from J’s house to the T, and arriving in Harvard Square several chapters later, with time to spare for shopping. How perfect is that?

Passing pedestrians

I’ve never been much for night life, but it’s nice to know that when or if I want to zip into Cambridge for a large, late afternoon cup of hot chocolate, it’s an easy round-trip. On the walk back to the T after hot chocolate, more shopping, and chili, sangria, and more conversation at the Border Cafe, I was happy to know such simple pleasures are close at hand. This afternoon, J and I rode the T to an afternoon Bruins game, checked out the First Night preparations on Boston Common, and arrived back home before dark. While much of Boston is staying out late to ring in the New Year, J and I are staying close to home. After the psychoactive excesses of yesterday’s Burdick’s run, tonight’s “after dark” agenda involves a houseful of pets, a widescreen TV, and a DVD or two. The night life in Boston affords many different ways to live it up after dark.

Free!

It’s not easy being a Christmas tree. The day after Christmas, I saw the first of several cast-off evergreens set out as trash as I walked Reggie around the block; this morning, I saw one tree tossed on a local lawn, as if taking one’s erstwhile Tannenbaum to the trash was too tiring a trip. At the Trader Joe’s in West Newton this afternoon, they set out a bin of free Christmas greenery, the leftover wreaths, boughs, and evergreen garland that didn’t sell. As is true in the aftermath of Keene’s annual Pumpkin Festival, Christmas evergreens quickly go from cherished to trashed. I’m glad the lifespan of a Festive Holiday Tree is longer than that of a Christmas tree, with the one here in Waban staying illuminated well into February last year. As soon as you look beyond Christmas, you can find all sorts of festive winter reasons to keep your evergreens around, illuminated, and out of the trash.

Maybe I’m in no hurry to see folks cast off their Christmas greenery because I arrived so late to the season. Typically, I don’t have time for Christmas prep until my fall semester is nearly or entirely done…which means I finished the last of my Christmas shopping yesterday. Luckily, my family is used to gifts from “Last Minute Lori” arriving late…and since I’ll be going to Ohio to see my family in a couple weekends, I bought some time (without fooling anyone) by saying I’d “hand deliver” several items.

Cast off

My own procrastinative tendencies notwithstanding, though, I’ve always preferred to keep Christmas decorations up longer than most, mostly because it always was a tradition in my family to keep our Christmas tree until my birthday, January 6, the traditional date of the Epiphany. In the old days, Christmas didn’t last one day; it lasted twelve, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” being the time it took for the Three Kings to arrive in Bethlehem to visit the newborn Jesus. Even today, holiday travel is a bitch, so it’s no wonder that men arriving on camels and relying on a star for navigation would have taken longer than the average lifespan of a Christmas tree to reach their destination.

I mention all of this by way of raising two logistical points. First, one of the items I’ll be hand-delivering to relatives in Ohio in a couple weeks is my 2008 calendar, which you can view here and buy here. Second, I’ve been remiss in announcing the upcoming Festival of the Trees which I’ll be hosting here on January 1st. You can send your tree-related links to me at zenmama (at) gmail (dot) com with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line, or you can use this automated submission form. The official deadline for submissions is Sunday, December 30, but we all know “Last Minute Lori” isn’t fooling anyone with her fine talk of deadlines. I’ll be posting the Festival at some point on New Year’s Day, so please submit your links soon!

Sniff & shoot

One way to celebrate a holiday is by condemning those who celebrate differently than you do. On Christmas day J and I drove Reggie and Melony the beagle into downtown Boston, where we left the car at a Back Bay parking meter and took a several-hour stroll down Boylston and Newbury Streets. J and I wanted to see the sights and snap photos; Reggie and Melony wanted to sniff and pee. To each her or his own, right?

No sooner did J and I pass Copley Square on Boylston Street than we encountered a slow-moving truck emblazoned with Christian condemnations. "Christians in the Bible never celebrated Christmas," block letters on the truck proclaimed. "How can you honor Jesus with lies about Santa Claus, flying reindeer, and drunken parties?" To drive the point home, this Hellfire-Mobile had a loudspeaker with which the driver preached his message of condemnation to passing pedestrians. Why greet random strangers with a friendly "Merry Christmas" when you can shout "You're going to hell" instead?

You all are going to hell

Christians in the Bible never drove trucks with loudspeakers and damning slogans stenciled on the sides. How can you honor Jesus with drive-by words of hate? J and I have been around separate segments of the evangelical block: whereas I was raised Catholic and was “born again” as a college undergraduate, J was raised Catholic and became a Baptist as an adult living and working in Georgia. Currently, neither one of us attends church, but we aren’t antithetical to Christianity, either; we just don’t drive around with Christian slogans emblazoned for all to see. If choosing to take a quiet walk with your dog and digicam constitutes a damnable offense–if what God wants His followers to do instead is drive around yelling at people–then I guess J and I should get ready for a warmer climate. Let it be done to me, Lord, as you say.

Luckily, not all of the characters J and I encountered on our Christmas dog-walk were as “colorful” as the Drive-by Christian. Instead, some of the most tolerant folks we encountered were themselves plastic.

Mannequins and reflections

One claim I often hear around the holidays–one shared by Christians and non- alike–is that Christmas is too commercial. I guess it’s fitting, then, that J and I spent a good part of our afternoon shooting dummies who were born to be shot: the empty-eyed mannequins who peer with aloof gazes through the reflective windows of the boutiques on Boston’s upscale Newbury Street.

Mannequins and reflections

If you’re looking for an embodiment of Everything Wrong with Commercialized Christmas, a Newbury Street mannequin would be a likely candidate. Empty-headed, a mannequin exists only to be an object of desire; displaying the wares of modern consumer culture, a mannequin is the poster-child of style over substance.

Mannequins and reflections

Mannequins, after all, are created to reflect what we as consumers presumably crave. According to mannequins, we prefer our icons skinny and bloodlessly white, their limbs inconceivably slender. Attenuation, it seems, is what catches our attention; judging from mannequins, we want to hang the clothes we seek from sleekly skeletal forms who are ghostly and ethereal.

Mannequins and reflections

Still, I can’t bring myself to dislike, much less condemn, the mannequins of Newbury Street. If we lived in a world where people bought only what they needed, families exchanged hand-made rather than store-bought gifts, and nothing was marketed, we’d certainly consume less…but where would we go window-shopping?

Mannequins and reflections

Just my fond memories of a Catholic childhood make it unnecessary for me to reject that part of my upbringing even if I don’t currently practice it, I harbor no ill will toward mannequins and the marketers who manage them. As a child, one of my favorite pre-holiday activities was leafing through the pages of department store catalogs, where I’d see all sorts of toys I’d dream of but never own. Why do we automatically assume that seeing an object of desire means we’ll necessarily acquire it?

Mannequins and reflections

Of the countless times I’ve gone window shopping on Newbury Street, I’ve actually bought things there only a handful of times and at a handful of stores. If anyone should be shouting condemnations here, these mannequins should ask me when I plan on paying them for the visual pleasure they have continually provided.

Mannequins and reflections

I have no doubt Christmas is too commercial…and yet, when I try to find flesh-and-body people to condemn for their overly consumerist ways, I can find no likely suspects. The flesh-and-blood people I know are simply trying to live their lives regardless of how “simple” I consider those lives to be.

Mannequins and reflections

Long before Christmas, an acquaintance privately criticized another who was buying a popular plastic toy for her son at a big-name toy store. “When my children were young,” my acquaintance explained, “I never shopped at Store X, and I certainly didn’t buy my children Toy Y.” Implied was an assumption that civilization is going to hell in a handbasket because some parents are buying brand-name toys like Barbies, Legos, and Transformers at big boxes like Toys R Us, Target, and Wal-Mart. If our children play with plastic toys bought from plastic stores, at what point will society itself become plastic?

Mannequins and reflections

And yet, I myself played with Barbies and Legos…and had Transformers existed and been on sale, Santa would have brought me those, too. Did my parents love me any less because they selected my mass-produced toys from the clearance tables at K-Mart? Is the world today cheaper, more disposable, and more materialistic because my blue-collar parents bought what they could afford where they could instead of giving me hand-made, free-traded, earthy-crunchy artisan wares bought from from independent sellers?

Mannequins and reflections

We live in a nation where you have the right to worship where you please or not at all, and you similarly have the right to proclaim your beliefs (religious or otherwise) from a slow-moving truck if you so please. To each her or his own, right? And yet, what troubled me about the acquaintance who prided herself for not buying Toy Y at Store X was her very pride: we each have the right to decide what, where, and whether we spend our cash, but isn’t it downright pharisaical to condemn another parent for her or his choices?

Mannequins and reflections

What bothers me about the “Christmas is too commercial” rant is how it, like a drive-by Christian’s sermon, is typically directed toward other folks. I can’t recall ever hearing a concerned citizen say “My family’s holiday is too commercial,” which is unusual considering the amount of credit card debt the “typical American” carries. Instead, the “Christmas is too commercial” spiel always seems to be directed toward other Americans, not me: the problem with society, this rant suggests, is that other parents are buying too many presents of the wrong kind from the wrong places. The source of this presumably pervasive problem, in other words, always seems to be that elusive wraith, Someone Else.

Mannequins and reflections

J and I didn’t set a price limit on the gifts we exchanged; we simply tried to find gifts we knew the other would like. For J’s birthday, I spent what some would deem Too Much on tickets to go to a New England Patriots game; for Christmas, J spent I-don’t-know-how-much to transform my dog into art. Was either gift Too Expensive, Too Commercial, Too Whatever?

Mannequins and reflections

In my mind, only J and I (and perhaps Jesus himself, if He’s keeping an eye on our checkbooks) can decide. As for me, I pay my credit card balances in full each month, but I love my friends who don’t; I occasionally shop at Target, Wal-Mart, and the like, but I love and respect those who choose otherwise. To each her or his own, right?

Mannequins and reflections

One way to celebrate a holiday is by condemning those who celebrate differently than you do, and the same applies to shopping. It’s easy to target the upscale shops of the world’s Newbury Streets as being the source of modern materialism; it’s easy to see and condemn folks who pay top dollar for designer clothes while the Politically Correct of the world choose overpriced organic veggies over name brands. When it comes to both shopping and salvation, maybe we all should see to our own souls rather than shouting about the sins of others. As the Bible itself teaches, it’s better to tend to the log in your own eye than sweating over the speck in another’s.

A striking likeness

It’s not everyday when someone sneaks around behind your back to orchestrate the perfect present. J initially struggled to figure out what to get me for Christmas, and perhaps my giving him Patriots tickets for his birthday didn’t make matters any easier. But about a month ago, he claimed to have the Perfect Idea. “You’ll never guess” was all he’d say about the gift-in-the-making; all I knew was at several points he surreptitiously mailed envelopes I wasn’t allowed to see.

Smile, Keene

Those envelopes, it turned out, were addressed to artist Bren Bataclan, whose “Smile Boston” project I’d blogged when it took a road trip to Keene, NH after the flood of October, 2005. I didn’t claim the smiley-faced painting I found at the Keene State College student center back in 2005, figuring that someone else needed a smile more than I did. But the first time I visited J’s house, I smiled to see a Bren Bataclan painting in his living room: not one he found, but one he’d bought. On the secret checklist of “good traits” and “bad traits” every woman keeps when she first meets a man, I silently checked one in the “good” column: “Supports local artists.”

I knew Bren Bataclan painted whimsical, brightly colored characters; I didn’t know that he also accepts commissions to paint cartoon-like pet portraits. Now that I’ve seen Reggie’s cartoon alter-ego, I have to say the pairing is perfect. Reggie’s personality has always been goofy, and his orange poofiness is a perfect subject for painted whimsy. Bren perfectly captured the big, silly fluffiness of a dog he’s never met, thanks in large part to the various photographed portraits J took and secretly sent in those envelopes I wasn’t allowed to see.

In my opinion, the Perfect Present is one you never even thought to ask for, something you wouldn’t have bought yourself but you can’t imagine living without once you’ve received it. J’s commission of this portrait perfectly qualifies. “Loves me, loves my pet” is one of those good traits I’ve silently checked on my secret checklist of good and bad traits, and this year’s Christmas present merely highlighted that fact. It’s not everyday that someone transforms your beloved baby into a whimsical work of art.

Thanks to J for photographing Reggie posing alongside his portrait, which is still wrapped in plastic to prevent him from licking his likeness.

Christmas eave

Pardon the wretched pun, but I couldn’t refuse. What else would I titled a Christmas eve post featuring a looming glacier of snow ready to slide off the eaves in today’s December thaw?

We still have plenty of remaining snow in Waban for a white Christmas…but after two days of mild temperatures and intermittent rain yesterday, Santa will find much less snow covering the ground when he touches down later tonight. What looked like this on December 19th…

We support...snow?

…looked like this today.

Signs revealed

Similarly, the well-dressed snow-folk who looked like this on December 19th…

Well-dressed snowfolk

…had fattened themselves with a second snowfall the next day…

Frosty & friend

…and now have shriveled to snowy stumps.

Sorry snowfolk

If warm-ish temperatures continue, I’ll be forced to photograph thawing puddles instead of snowscapes.

Thawing puddle

Luckily, I snapped a slew of photos the morning after our last snowfall, when twigs were etched in white and Waban looked like the inside of a shaken snow-globe. If you’re wishing for a white Christmas this year, a winter Waban-land is only a click away. Enjoy, and merry Christmas!

Root beer goodness

For the past month or so, A (not her real initial) and I have been looking forward to the end of our respective fall semesters and the chance to reward ourselves with root beer, ice cream, and French fries. It’s not that we haven’t had root beer, ice cream, and French fries this past semester…we just haven’t had the time to sit down for a long, leisurely, and high-caloric weekday lunch since we walked at Mount Auburn Cemetery and ate pancakes (and I drank the unbelievably sweet, neon-bright raspberry lime rickey pictured below) at the Deluxe Town Diner back in August. If you’re in tune with an academic calendar, you’ll recognize the pattern: August was our last hurrah before fall semester classes began, and this past Friday, when A and I made good on our mutual root beer promise, marked the last push before semester’s end.

Raspberry lime rickey

At some point over the past month or so, “root beer” became a kind of code for “the celebratory lunch A and I will have after we’ve both submitted grades.” When you teach for a living, you get used to the fact that no one except another instructor will remember the precise chronology of your “busy” and “down” times. Yes, everyone assumes my summer schedule is lighter than my winter one, and everyone knows that school resumes sometime around September. But only someone like A knows that if we have Getting-Ready-for-a-New-Semester Pancakes in late August, it will be roughly 15 weeks before we can have a refreshing glass of Thank-God-It’s-Nearly-Over Root Beer in late December.

In about a month, A and I will have a serving of Spring-Semester’s-Almost-Here Potato Pancakes, then another three months or so after that, we’ll indulge in some version of I-Have-Piles-of-Final-Papers-to-Grade Cheesecake. If you know what it’s like to measure out your life with coffee spoons, you’ll recognize this pattern. For every milestone, there’s an accompanying meal anticipated in advance and enjoyed over conversation, the savor of a leisurely, high-caloric treat being the perfect reward for a busy semester with little time to socialize.

The site for this past Friday’s root beer reward was Joey’s Diner in Amherst, NH, which I’ve featured here previously. Both A and I enjoyed our anticipated root beer and fries: A’s with a crock of turkey soup, and mine with a bacon cheeseburger. We saved, however, the ice cream for another day: next semester’s reward, perhaps?

Psychedelic dinnerware

Every year right around Christmas, Photo Friday posts a “Best of” photo challenge. This challenge gives faithful photo-bloggers an excuse to recycle old content…and it also affords a “blast from the past” as you dip into your own photo archive.

May flowers

I posted the above image of some funky dinnerware shot through a kaleidoscopic lens in the gift-shop of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in May, right before my old blog died and this new WordPress site was born. (You can see a photo-set of other kaleidoscopic images here.) I then re-blogged this image when I landed on WordPress, before I migrated my old posts. Impermanence surrounds us, but it’s nice to think as a writer-who-snaps-photos that my work is floating out there somewhere, available to friends, family, and random Googlers to peruse when the spirit moves. If nothing else, once a year I dip into my own archives to select my own “Best of.”

This year, I’m allowing myself the luxury of posting several “Best of 2007” images rather than picking just one. Besides relocating my old blog to WordPress, this year I started using Flickr to host my photos, so most (but not all) of this past year’s images are marked with a handy “2007” tag. It’s easy enough to click through my monthly blog archive to re-visit posts from 2007, but it’s even easier to browse through Flickr. Next year, finding my own “Best of” will be that much easier. In the meantime, I didn’t have to click very far into 2007 to reacquaint myself with the above image of a smashed pane of glass leaning against an emergency fire alarm, which I posted on January 31.

Smashing

Perhaps because I don’t consider myself a “real” photographer, I find that most of my favorite photos happen by accident. A “real” photographer would know what the various settings on her camera meant; a “real” photographer would actually fiddle with those settings rather than merely pointing and shooting. When you merely point and shoot, you end up deleting lots of images…but through the mere law of averages, you end up with some surprisingly decent shots. If you take enough pictures and post only the ones that don’t completely suck, you can surprise yourself and others with the apparent artistry of your eye. Who would have thought, for instance, that a routine dog-walk on a gray and yucky February day would yield another 2007 favorite?

Tracks

In looking back on these several images that I’ve tagged my “Best of 2007,” I realize each one involves me looking at an ordinary object in a new or unusual way. I’ve passed the shop window for Miller Bros. men’s clothing countless times during dog-walks in Keene, but only on a particular March day did I snap an image of passersby reflected therein. Nothing about this shop window was different on that particular March day, but something about the image is unrepeatable.

It's Keene to shop locally

I suppose the moral of any “Best of” post is the sheer unrepeatability of time itself. Can we revisit posts and pictures from the past year? Certainly. Could I find a fashion magazine, douse it with simulated raindrops, and recreate the exact scenario behind this final image? Probably. But would that recreated image recapture the experience of Thanksgiving morning 2007 as I walked the dog through downtown Waban and snapped one last image before powering down for the holiday? Most definitely not.

Extreme Closeup

The best pictures of 2007 linger far longer than their date-stamps, but the best of any year truly can’t be captured. Only in the archive of an acute mind can time be saved and salvaged like so many pictures.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Best of 2007. Previous installments of the “Best of” series can be found here, here, and here. Enjoy!

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