#87: New England Clam Chowder

Bowl of ChowderI love clam chowder. I live in South Carolina. Therefore, I made it a goal to order clam chowder at least once while in Massachusetts.

[Side note: I also ate lobster for the first time that I can remember while there. I ordered a lobster sandwich from Panera. It was divine. And special that I ate lobster for the first time in Massachusetts.]

Back to clam chowder. I managed to enjoy a cup of chowder three times: once in Salem at a restaurant called The Lobster Shanty, once in Concord at Walden Grille, and once in Cambridge at Legal Sea Foods, which Dr. Sepko recommended. Her husband Ken declares that Legal makes the best chowder ever.

I agree. It was superb! So good that I almost had a quart shipped home to Dad in South Carolina. So good that I’m demanding that my family go to Atlanta soon, since that’s the closest Legal Sea Foods to where we live.

While the chowder in Salem and Concord was delicious, they were still no match for the chowder at Legal. That combined with the amazing fish and chips I ordered made that meal the best one we had the whole week. I heartily recommend that if you’re ever in a town where there’s a Legal Sea Foods, GO! It may be the best meal you’ve ever had. 🙂

#45: Boston

Although Harvin, Ticcoa, and I said for weeks that we were “going to Boston,” in reality, we only spent one full day in the city. But what a day it was!

Our activities in Boston included walking the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile long walk that connects 16 stops important in the founding of our nation. We didn’t go to every stop, but there were some cool ones:

1. The trail starts at Boston Common, America’s oldest public park. It’s big and beautiful and right in the heart of Boston. Lots of green grass, the Frog Pond, and expensive parking. We wandered through the park, took a few pictures, and moved on to the first big stop.

revere's tomb2. Granary Burying Ground. Paul Revere is burried here. John Hancock. Samuel Adams. Ben Franklin’s parents. The five victims of the Boston Massacre. It’s really an impressive place, just a few blocks away from Boston Common. Old, crumbling tombstones; dirt paths; steeped in history. I love graveyards, especially when cool people are buried there.

3. Next was King’s Chapel and King’s Chapel Burying Ground. The graveyard actually came first, and the church was built later. In literary history, King’s Chapel is important because it’s where Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale were buried in The Scarlet Letter. Sadly, they’re not real, but it’s another great little, old cemetery.

boston massacre4. We also saw the site of the Boston Massacre, just outside the Old State House. A ring of bricks marks the spot where the five men died.

Near the massacre site is also the visitors’ center for the Boston National Historic Site, which encompasses most of the spots on the Freedom Trail. I bought cool postcards there. 🙂

cheers5. Fanueil Hall was an awesome place, if only for the marketplace near the old building. A replica of the Cheers bar is there; Chris demanded that I stop in and buy him a t-shirt. My dad also appreciated my stopping in, as well.

Fanueil Hall Marketplace is an impressive building. Food vendors sell all sorts of international cuisine. I ate Thai food–delicious! Coa enjoyed a lobster roll and Harvin a seafood wrap. Good, inexpensive food.

paul revere house6. We visited the Paul Revere House, too–the only house museum on the Freedom Trail. It wasn’t that great, really. Just four rooms housing some artifacts from Revere’s life. But it was a self-guided tour with little signs and descriptions on everything. Not the best museum we’ve been to, by far.

north church7. The best stop on the trail, and one of our best of the week, was the Old North Church, where the lanterns were hung to warn the colonists about how the Patriots would be entering Boston: “one if by land, two if by sea.” We arrived at the church in time to hear a great tour guide give a talk about the real history of the hanging of the lanterns. Revere was the one to give the order to hang the lanterns, but he never actually hung them–he headed off in the direction of Lexington and Concord to warn those residents.

newman windowA young man named Robert Newman was one of the two men to hang the lanterns in the church. They climbed up to the belfry to get the lights as high as possible, and when they emerged at the bottom after taking the lamps down, the British had already entered the church. Newman and the other man leaped out of the windows to escape. A replica lantern now hangs in the window known as the “Newman window.” One of the actual lanterns is housed in the Concord Museum, which we saw later in the week, and we also visited the site where Paul Revere was captured just outside of Boston. More about that later, though.

poe birthplacePoe, darling Poe, was also born in Boston. The boardinghouse where he was born is now a coffeeshop or something similar. There is a plaque on the building, though. We stopped to take a picture.

Boston is really a spectacular city. So much history, surrounded by so much urban development. It’s a pedestrian’s city, too–they’re fearless! They’ll just walk out in front of traffic, knowing that they’ll stop. I had to work up the courage to cross, even when the don’t walk sign was lit.

It’s a city I’d very much enjoy living near, but living in the city would be a nightmare, I think. I don’t have the courage–big cities still frighten me a bit. 🙂

There’s one other part of Boston I saw, that I’ll talk about later, since it was a special item on my list. I stood outside Fenway Park. It was a beautiful thing. 🙂

New England Trip Day 3: Salem, Massachusetts

Our first full day in New England, we headed to the great little seaside town of Salem, which is, of course, most famous for the Witch Trials that took place there in 1692. And, boy, do they play it up. There are so many museums dedicated to witch history, but we only visited one–supposedly the best and most visited–the Salem Witch Museum. It was fun, for the most part–not as kitschy as I expected. The first part was a dramatic reading, of sorts, of the history of the witch trials, and then we walked through a section of the museum detailing the portrayal of witches throughout history.

After leaving that museum, we wandered through Salem Common, played on the swingset a bit, and then headed to the Engine House Restaurant for what promised to be the best pizza in Salem. We were not disappointed.

derby street booksThe best part of the day came after lunch. First we visited a half-priced bookstore with books stacked to the ceiling! It was surprisingly well-organized for a store with almost no shelves. And it’s certainly an adventure shopping for books when you’re a clutz maneuvering through narrow aisles with the constant threat of books falling on your head. It was here, however, that I found my copy of The Road, and it’s awesome to have such an adventurous story of buying what’s now one of my favorite books.

After leaving the bookstore, we drove to The House of the Seven Gables, which was one of our best visits of the entire week. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin once lived here, and while he was visiting the house (which only had 3 gables at that point) one day, she told him, “This was once a house of seven gables.” With that remark, his story of the curse of the Pyncheon family was born.

seven gables gardenSeven Gables is a beautiful place. The gardens are marvelous, and it sits right on the Salem waterfront, so one may sit in the garden and look out at the boats in the harbor. Ah…I wish I were there right now. Here we are in the Seven Gables garden, before the tour even started.

And, oh, the tour! The house has a lot of stuff original to the families that lived there. But perhaps the coolest part is that, a hundred or so years ago, when the house was first transformed into a museum, the owners added elements of the fictional Seven Gables in order to attract more guests. So, readers of the novel will note the room where Hepzibah Pyncheon would have sold her baked goods. While not original to the house, it’s still been there about a century, which is seriously cool. But the best part about the whole tour was the tiny, narrow, hidden staircase that was added behind a chimney. In the novel, Clifford maneuvers around the house and appears in the dining room from the story above, seemingly like a ghost. The owners added the staircase to show how Clifford could have been so stealthy. And we got to climb that staircase! It’s steep, dark, narrow, and a little scary. All of that equals awesome, though. Because I was standing closest to the chimney, I got to be the first to climb it, and when I arrived at the top, I burst out of the staircase gasping for breath. It’s confining, but the coolest part was just that I got to climb Clifford’s staircase. Yes, I’m a literary dork. 🙂

nathaniel_hawthorneAlso at Seven Gables is the Hawthorne House, the house where little Nathaniel was born in 1804. He only lived there a few years, but it was just the first of several houses that we got to tour that darling Hawthorne had lived in. Also, in the gift shop, I bought a poster-sized print of the Osgood portrait of the angelic, handsome Hawthorne. Soon, he will grace the walls of my room. Indeed.

custom house stepsBecause Seven Gables is so near Derby Wharf, we walked there after touring the house. First, we stopped by the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked and wrote much of The Scarlet Letter. I sat on the steps of the Custom House. Perhaps in the very spot where Hawthorne’s foot once touched as he walked into work one day.

derby wharfIf one sits on the steps of the Custom House, one will look straight down Derby Wharf, to the adorable lighthouse there. It was my first lighthouse outside of South Carolina or Georgia! So exciting! It’s an adorable little 25-foot-tall lighthouse, one of three small ones used to guide ships into Salem Harbor. Off in the distance, we could see one of the other two. Two lighthouses in Massachusetts in one day. Very awesome.

Salem really is a great little town. I thought it would be much more involved in the witch history, and while they definitely embrace it, the tourist aspect of it doesn’t take over the whole time. Salem is worthy of visiting on its own merit, beyond just its history. It really is a great New England, seaside village where people live everyday lives. However, I would definitely love to see it in October. I hear it transforms into a spooky little place then.

Salem also embraces its literary history. They seem quite proud of their most famous literary icon, Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are two roads there that can be confusing if one knows the history of the name–Hathorne St. and Hawthorne Blvd. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name in order to remove himself from the stigma of the Hathorne name–his great-times-something-grandfather was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, and Nathaniel wanted to dissociate himself from the name.

Finally, at least, I’ll show you the massive Hawthorne statue on Hawthorne Blvd. It isn’t representative of the young, angelic, heartbreaker Hawthorne, but older Hawthorne was a distinguished-looking fellow.

(We really love Hawthorne, by the way. I love his work, particularly his short stories, but he seemed to be the author that evoked the most giddiness in all of us, as you’ll see in later posts. We even ran into a mother and daughter in Concord on our second day–we had all toured the Wayside together the day before–and she referred to us as the “Hawthorne girls.” I like that title.)

hawthorne statue salem

American Bloomsbury

americanbloomsburyIn preparation for our trip to New England, I’ve once again picked up American Bloomsbury, which is about Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, and Margaret Fuller, the writers who shaped American literature. Susan Cheever attempts to portray the real lives of these auspicious men and women. She states in chapter 1: “[T]his is not only a story about ideas and their power to form a national identity; it’s about love triangles and the difficulties of raising children, about grief and inspiration and bad advice and passionate friendships, about the ebb and flow of daily life in the New England seasons of  a small town.” Sounds good, right?

Cheever has done loads of research, and much of the stories are written in narrative form, which gives the book an air of fiction. She also makes bold statements about their lives; sometimes, it’s amusing (see following quote on Emerson) and sometimes, it’s annoying. I started reading this last year, when we initially planned our New England trip, and couldn’t even make it through part 1. I didn’t want my perceptions of Thoreau, Emerson, and the others to be ruined by her opinions. I have since decided to give it another chance.

Some points that Cheever makes:

emerson1. Emerson, with the money left to him by his first wife, who died young of TB, supported all of his fellow thinkers and writers at some time or another. Cheever states:

Emerson wrote some wonderful lines, and some true biographical portraits, but it is as the sugar daddy of American literature that he really takes his place in the pantheon of Concord writers.

Of what I had previously read, this is the statement that I distinctly remembered, one that makes me smile a little every time I think of it. I wonder what Emerson would think of this particular phrasing?

bronson alcott2. I’m not really a fan of Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s father), so this book hasn’t really skewed my perception of him. Still, I found Cheever’s statements about his marriage with Abba Alcott to be interesting:

Bronson Alcott, in his doomed consociate society, believed that marriage shouldn’t limit a man’s ability to be with other women or a woman’s ability to be with other men, a freedom that rang hollow to his wife, who had no desire to be with other men and less and less desire to be with Alcott himself.

Alcott, though beloved by Louisa May, was not a good husband and father. He spent a lot of time away from home, visiting other areas of New England, and even England on occassion, teaching his radical beliefs on education (not all of which are bad, admittedly), and attempting to persuade others to his ideology of communal living. (Granted, I’m all for communal living, but Alcott attempted to live communally, with far too many social freedoms, and a lack of intelligence about farming and gardening. He didn’t believe in milking the cows or using the animals to plow and was, therefore, a terrible agrarian.)

3. Cheever talks way too much about sex in this book. The way she tells it, the Concord Transcendentalists were all having affairs with each other. The married men Emerson and Hawthorne were both in love with Margaret Fuller, young Louisa May Alcott loved both Emerson and Thoreau, and Thoreau was in love with Emerson’s wife, Lidian. She also even speculates on whether Thoreau was gay.

On that note, however, I tend to agree with some of what she says. While Cheever believes the other authors’ sexuality greatly influenced their word (i.e. Hawthorne’s infatuation with Margaret Fuller was the basis of both The Blithedale Romance and The Scarlet Letter), she states about Thoreau:

[I]t isn’t clear that Thoreau’s sexuality affected his life at all. It’s a twenty-first century question directly at an emphatically nineteenth-century personality. What is to be said about a man whose connections to birds and fish and all living things sustained him in a way that his connections to other people could never do?

thoreauThat seems more fitting with the ideas I’ve had about Thoreau–the man who loved Nature and was so in tune with the trees and the animals that he sort of wandered through the rest of his life in a sort of daze.

Cheever’s discussion on Walden might be my favorite parts of the whole book. She writes:

Freed from his daily indebtedness to Emerson, [Thoreau] wrote as if awakening, and the sense of awakening runs through the book. Walden is the first American memoir, the first book in which the days and nights of an autobiographical, confessional narrator are the central plotline. Thoreau invented nature writing and memoir writing in one swift, brilliant stroke.

In regards to the popularity that Walden has in present-day America, Cheever states:

Walden is a masterpiece, but it is generally cited more than it is read. The mention of Walden in polite society inevitably elicits great praise. “My favorite book,” someone says. Or, “I live by that book.” What they mean is that they know about the book and take it to be a hand book for the simpler life they might want to lead, if they ever got tired of making money and going to parties, or if they ever came to believe that the status in their community that makes them comforatable was really not important at all.

So true. I love Walden–for those reasons. Ideally, I’d like to live a simple life, free of clutter and materialism. But all you need to do is walk in my room, where piles of stuff clutter my life and wonder where the simplicity is.

All in all, I’d say this book definitely improves as one keeps reading. Cheever, I think, sometimes takes too much liberty in telling these stories–I think she assumes too much about the details of their lives that we could never actually know. And as much as I like New Historicism, there’s something to be said for limiting the details of the author’s life–I don’t think knowing every detail about Hawthorne’s supposed love affair with Fuller should in any way influence my reading of The Scarlet Letter. His Puritan ancestry…yes, it’s quite important. I don’t think his sexual life is. And with that, I’m finished.

I read this book over the course of the day yesterday, and this morning, I dreamed that I was sitting in some house in Concord having a fantastic discussion with Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Fuller. I don’t remember what we were discussing, but I know we were all friends. 🙂

We’re Off to Massachusetts!

In Spring 2008, I took a class at NGU called New England Writers. My roommate/BFF Harvin did, as well, and there we met Ticcoa, who quickly became one of our favorite people. We all took the class in anticipation of discussing great literature with one of our favorite professors (Yay, Dr. Thompson!) and then embarking on a ten-day road trip to visit the Mecca of the literary world, Boston, Massachusetts.

We planned. We researched. We dreamed. We devoured literature from New England. And then the trip was canceled due to a TON of different reasons.

But Ticcoa, Harvin, and I refused to believe that we would never make it to Boston. We kept dreaming and discussing. And we decided we’d go this summer. The trip-planning hasn’t been without it’s nail-biting moments, however. We moved the date back when I was potentially offered the chance to teach a summer school class (which eventually fell through). We’ve saved and searched for the best deals, wondering if it was possible to do this on our limited budgets.

Yesterday, I booked a hotel about 15 miles outside of Boston. We leave four weeks from today. And it finally feels real…my best friends and I will spend ten days on the road, exploring New England, stepping on hallowed ground where such writers as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Edgar Allan Poe lived and breathed, died and were buried, changed the world! For months, I’ve wanted this more than anything else. I’ve spent hours daydreaming about walking around Walden Pond, wearing my Threadless “Poetic Irony” shirt at Poe’s grave, taking photographs of the houses where some of my favorite writers lived.  For an English major, this will be heaven. And I’m going with two of my best friends. 🙂

What exactly will we be doing?, you may be asking yourself. Or, you know, perhaps not. I’ll tell you anyway.

At some point, on the trip up or back, we’ll be stopping off in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Poe Museum, and in Baltimore, Maryland, to visit Poe’s grave. POE’S GRAVE!!!!! One of my very favorite writers and a cemetery? Good grief, it will be spectacular!

On the way back, we’re also swinging through Hartford, Connecticut, to visit the Mark Twain House and the first school for the deaf (Coa’s passionate about the deaf community and American Sign Language).

During the six days we’ll actually be in Massachusetts, we have plans to visit Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Salem, and Amherst:

Boston is, of course, one of the most historic cities in America. We’ll walk the Freedom Trail and see where many of the event’s of our country’s history played out. The site of the Boston Massacre; Boston Common, America’s oldest public park; the site of the Old Corner Bookstore, where The Scarlet Letter and Walden were first published; Paul Revere’s House; the Old North Church, inspiration for Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” And maybe I can sneak a glimpse of Fenway Park? (My fellow travelers HATE sports, so this might be difficult.)

Cambridge is home of the Longfellow National Historic Site, and we’ll probably take a walking tour of the town and spot the homes where famous writers (including Eliot!) at some point lived or visited.

Concord is pretty much the birthplace of American literature, and we’ll spend two days exploring that town. Emerson’s house; Orchard House, home of the Alcotts; the Old Manse, where Emerson, Hawthorne, and others lived at different points in time; the Concord Museum; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts are all buried; and, of course, Walden Pond.

Salem is, of course, most famous for the Salem Witch Trials, so we’ll visit the kitschy Salem Witch Museum. We’ll also tour the House of the Seven Gables, which includes the Hawthorne House and some other historical locations. And perhaps we’ll catch a meal at the Witches Brew Cafe? 🙂

Amherst is a few hours from Boston, but how can we go to Massachusetts without visiting the Emily Dickinson Homestead? The answer is, we can’t, so that will be our last day in Massachusetts before we head to Hartford. There’s also an Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books that we may visit if we have enough time.

That’s at least seven author homes, two cemeteries (and probably more), and one grand adventure. It’ll be an incredibly busy, hectic ten days. But I feel like ten days feeding our passion for literature and history will not be a problem at all.

I will, of course, be blogging as much as possible. And if you follow me on Twitter (or we’re friends on Facebook), expect me to be tweeting from every location. It will probably overwhelm your feed. You’re welcome. 🙂 But don’t worry, that’s still a month away.

This trip will be epic in so many ways–my first time leaving the Southeastern United States, my farthest road trip and longest vacation, and a chance to mark a number of items off my List. Boston is technically #45 on the List, but for months, it’s been the unofficial #1. Massachusetts, here we come!