Posts Tagged 'boston'

A new Thing

Hi.

I’ve kinda sucked as a blogger the last year.

Life has been complicated. I will explain in detail later, but for now what I’ll say is that the Barretts have stayed in Boston, the Barretts have broadened our brood with a baby girl, and the rest… well, it’s still up for negotiation. I’ve been writing, and I’ve continued to contribute pieces elsewhere, but a lot of other things I’ve wanted to work on, like this blog, have rather sat collecting dust since May of last year.

I’m trying to pull my mojo back together. I’m still planning on finishing my dissertation. I’m also still planning on doing the Boston series (I’ve even written a large chunk of a draft of the first segment, it’s just that — to repeat myself — life has been complicated).

I will be honest and say that I’m very intentionally looking for ways to make some amount of money from the blogging effort; I’ve historically found this very challenging (I’ve always teetered between laughing hysterically and sobbing at the moment in Julie and Julia where Julie’s friends tell her, “Oh, you know, you can just put a PayPal button on your site and everybody will start sending you money”), but I’d like to crack it if I can.

(As an aside, I’ll mention a very weird conversation I had a couple of months ago with somebody who does make a living as a blogger. We were put in touch by a mutual friend who thought that he might be able to be of some help to me; we kind of sat there in awkward silence for a few minutes until he said, essentially, I really hope you aren’t waiting for me to talk, because I’m not interested in telling you anything helpful. We don’t stay in business by telling everybody else how it’s done, sorry.)

Anyway, as part of this undertaking of mojo reconstitution, I have started a Patreon, and I think I may have also coined I appear to have appropriated the term “jotcasting”.

Ideally, this will feed into the ongoing effort here. Please, if you can, support the Patreon; I’ve structured it as a monthly subscription starting at $1, and for that $1, you get daily posts of jokes, weekly rough drafts of essays, and monthly random other things. Some of that stuff may get polished and repurposed here and elsewhere; some of it may become still other stuff entirely. In any event, I’m shooting for it to be interesting if nothing else, and hopefully interesting enough for you to be willing to ante up a dollar a month for it.

Okay. More soon, promise.

Advertisements

Boston and “the real Paris”

(There are two types of people in this world: those who have seen Killing Zoe and thus understand the title of this post, and those who have not. It’s entirely okay if you’re in the latter category; Killing Zoe, truly a lesser effort for all involved, isn’t really worth the bother of seeing just so you can get the joke. To explain quickly: there’s a running gag in the film about Eric Stolz being in Paris and having people telling him they’re going to show him “the real Paris”. In the main, this does not work out well for him. That’s about the extent of it.)

I’ve written a bit about the experience of seeing some of the world’s major cities for the first time in my late 20s and 30s. I’ve also talked about the struggle that I have with a sense of rootlessness. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, we moved to the eastern part of Washington state when I was four years old, then moved to the Seattle metro area after another four years, and my parents moved back to Alaska after I graduated high school. This effectively meant that our paths diverged somewhat, and then my parents’ respective paths diverged from each other a few years after that. I stayed in Washington state, living in Bellingham for four years while I made an unsuccessful initial attempt at school, then moving back to Seattle when I got a job in the software industry. I stayed in Seattle for about five years, and then we moved two thirds of the way across the country, heading to Indiana for school, and we thought we’d be there for three years tops. Eleven years later, we finished the cross-country move, and now we’re in Boston. My mom and stepdad are still in Alaska; my wife’s family is mostly still in Washington state (save for a brother in Chicago) — as much as we love New England and are seriously thinking that putting down roots there would suit us very well, a major concentration of the Barrett family is not happening there any time soon, save for that which we generate for ourselves. And, you know, we may wind up doing just that.

On the other hand, let’s be honest about something. Being in Boston has been terrific, but as somebody who is by training something of an urban historian, I’m acutely aware that our experience so far has been strictly on honeymoon terms. We’ve been in a bubble to say the least — a seminary campus in a nice part of town where we haven’t had to pay rent. Yes, it looks like Boston is someplace where there is a market for the Barretts and the skill sets we bring to the table. Fine, it’s been great to live someplace, finally, where it’s at least possible for public transportation to minimize the amount of driving we have to do. It’s been wonderful to have a density of Orthodox churches in the area and to have the luxury of figuring out what’s a good fit, and for it to be normative for me to be paid relatively well as a cantor. It was awesome to go to a Red Sox game at Fenway stadium and to have it be a night when they won. I love that a decent Cuban sandwich is a hop, skip, and a jump away. Yes, it’s been genuinely soothing to our souls, after eleven years in a landlocked state, to live in a city where we can go out on a harbor cruise. Tasty Burger.

At the same time, these all amount to floating from one self-selected tourist experience to another, and a hot dog at Fenway followed by a ride on the T to the Museum of Fine Arts does not an informed denizen make. We haven’t really been through the ups and downs of everyday life, not by a long shot. Although, the end of the academic year has brought a little bit of that; it has meant that our time as residents in the seminary community is rapidly coming to an end. Holy Cross is truly a wonderful place to feel like one belongs, and when you don’t anymore, it feels like the sun has suddenly gone behind a cloud. Relationships will have to be re-cultivated and community will have to be re-defined. That’s okay; we won’t be stumbling-distance from our friends on campus, but we’ll still be in nacho distance, let’s say, and things will be fine. Previous friendships will be strengthened, and we’ll actually start to get to know a neighborhood in Boston, not just an enclave.

The urban historian in me wants to know more, though, and I want to know more by way of people who have stories to tell, and who can refer me to other sources. I may be a Byzantinist, but Boston is here right now, and I’m right in the middle of it, so why not?

So, here’s the plan — I’m going to pick the brains of 10 people, 5 whom I know in advance, 5 whom I don’t know and will be selected from, and approached in, crowds in public places. To the extent possible, these 10 people will represent a diversity of views, stations, geographies, life experiences, etc. I will ask them about Boston, their experiences with the city, and so on. It will be a conversation that I write about, and then at the end, the key question will be — who should I talk to next? And then I will go and talk to that person, asking them as well for a reference to another person. It will go on like this until somehow it all terminates with one person, or I run out of people. Both are, I think, unlikely, so we’ll see if another logical stopping point presents itself. I will be curious to see a) what directions the social connections go in, and b) if they ever cross.

For the moment, I guess I should start with myself. Boston first appeared on my radar when a friend of mine from my first stab at undergrad went out to Boston University to study voice and opera with Phyllis Curtin. I talked to him once or twice about coming out to visit, but it never happened.

After starting to hang out in Orthodox circles, of course I started hearing about the seminary, as well as Holy Transfiguration Monastery. While I was in Greece, I heard rumors about the possibility of the Byzantine chant position at Holy Cross coming open; when I brought John Boyer out to Bloomington for the first time in 2010 he confirmed that that was the case, and he said he would probably be heading out that to Boston himself starting that fall. It came to my attention that my teacher from Greece, Ioannis Arvanitis, was a finalist for the chant position; suddenly I started wondering — wow, if he gets the job, could I find a way to spend a dissertation year there? I wanted to go out there for his campus interview, but I didn’t find out when it was happening until after it was already over, alas.

But, the idea of trying to get out that way had been planted, and when I saw that the Patristics professor of Holy Cross was presenting at the Byzantine Studies Association of North America conference in Chicago fall 2011, I made a point of getting up there so I could talk to him. I finally paid a visit in March 2012, where mostly I saw the school, followed by another trip that fall for the Byzantine Studies conference. On that visit, I got to do a bit more sightseeing, although mostly in a context of food — I went with John and his family to Union Oyster House on the Freedom Trail, which claims the distinction of being the country’s oldest restaurant, and this experience was also my introduction to raw oysters. John also took me to Tasty Burger next to Fenway Stadium, which set a standard, and ordered Sicilian-style pizza from Pino’s one night as well.

After our godchildren Lucas and Stacey and our friends Bryce and Elyse left for seminary fall 2013, the Barretts paid a visit to the Holy Hill as a family over MLKjr weekend. We got to stroll around Cambridge and Harvard Square a bit, had dinner at Grendel’s Den, had some lovely bagels in Brookline, ate an awesome breakfast at Martin’s Coffee Shop in Brookline Village, and once again patronized Tasty Burger (“What a nice little hamburger! No, that’s fine, you’re great just the way you are“). I was back a few weeks later for a grad student conference, but it was mostly an excuse to hang out with my friends there. This time, I got to go downtown a bit, spending a decent amount of time in Copley Square and at the Boston Public Library, and also eating some good sushi.

Since we’ve been in Boston, two of the major things that we’ve loved have been easy access to water and boats, and — to continue a theme — the food. We went on a harbor cruise in a tall ship almost as soon as we got to town; something about seeing the city skyline at sunset from the water brought a lot of peace, particularly after so many years of feeling like we were being slowly strangled to death in Indiana. In terms of food, I don’t mean lobster rolls and clam chowder (although the lobster rolls are pretty darn good); I mean, overall, we can find what we’re looking for in a regular grocery store, including good seafood. Specialty grocery stores are a few minutes away if we need one (as opposed to five hours away in Chicago). There have been some things that we’ve had a harder time getting — raw milk we have to go way out of our way for, unlike Bloomington; bulk sausage just doesn’t appear to be a thing here; Gehl’s Nacho Cheese Sauce is not marketed at retail in Boston — but in the main, the variety of what’s available is unbelievable. Same goes for restaurants; the North End alone is a treasure trove for Italian food.

Churches and public transportation have also been really nice. Yes, okay, the T isn’t perfect. It’s really useful regardless, and it has enabled us to avoid parking downtown. I’m able to get to my contract gig via the T pretty easily. Getting to and from the airport is mostly reasonable, depending on where you live. As for churches, I’ve gotten to chant for a lot of different parish communities in the area, and they’ve all been lovely and welcoming. One parish pulled Theodore in for their Christmas pageant at the last second, and whenever I’ve subbed there since, they still ask me about him. I’ve also had the opportunity to sing in my friend Spiro Antonopoulos’s choir a couple of times, and that’s been great — just to live someplace where there’s enough of a critical mass that there can be a Byzantine choir in the area is mind-boggling.

Yes, it is not cheap to live in Boston, and it was a bit of a punch to the gut to have to internalize a price range of $1600-2200/month for what we were looking for. On the other hand, the incomes and opportunities go a long way towards making up the difference, and Flesh of My Flesh made an excellent point — it’s an approach to living that sees the city itself as your backyard. That certainly has its benefits. It has its downsides as well, to be sure, but I’m willing to deal with those, and among other things, I’m really looking forward to taking Theodore to a Red Sox game some time this summer.

Okay, so, looking at my story, wow, is it boring. I can’t really get out of my own head telling it, and clearly I’ve missed a whole bunch of things that would actually make it interesting. I’m simultaneously myopic and over-general when it comes to what’s caught my eye; I couldn’t tell you where my favorite drink in Boston is, I couldn’t tell you what I think the city’s most pressing issues are, and I can’t really articulate clearly why this experience is significant to me. I don’t have a story with a beginning, middle, and end; I’ve got some bits and pieces of a premise, not much more. Some of this comes from having developed a pretty strong bunker mentality in Indiana, where, in absence of the things that we wanted on an external level, we came up with reasonable facsimiles at home. “Where’s your favorite restaurant?” “My house!” “What’s your favorite drink?” “A Manhattan I’ve made!” etc. I think I had a pretty good understanding of Bloomington’s issues by the end of our time there, but I have to acknowledge that a lot of what I think I know about Bloomington’s issues comes from theorizing around my own anger at and resentment of the place. Anyway, the point is, there’s still some of that going on, and it’s going to take some time before all of that breaks down and lets in new perspectives and experiences.

In the meantime, I’m going to be listening to some other people’s stories in the hopes that they can educate me about this city that we’re hoping will adopt us, and I’m going to try to tell them to you. I hope you’ll find those stories interesting, at least.

Oh, and who am I talking to next? You’ll see. All in good time.

Whether or not cities actually exist

I’ve recently had occasion to visit New York for a weekend. A group research project I participated in for a history pedagogy course I took last spring turned into a panel at the American Historical Association, and while it made for a number of commitments to juggle over New Year’s, I wound up taking the train down from Boston the first Saturday of the year and AirBnB-ing a place in Brooklyn (a much better deal than the conference hotel, to say the absolute least — it’s a real gem). I caught Cappella Romana’s concert at Trinity Wall Street, helped chant Orthros and Divine Liturgy at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Sunday morning, having brunch afterward with a friend at the Brooklyn Diner (which is neither in Brooklyn nor a diner), meeting another friend for a drink at the Stone Rose Lounge in Columbus Circle, then wending my way to the New York Hilton Midtown to meet with my panelists. As it happened, we wound up once again at the Brooklyn Diner; I had later dinner plans, so I contented myself with a Greek salad, then headed over to Times Square to meet another friend. As is our custom when I’m in New York, we had dinner at John’s Pizzeria, and then I took the subway back to Brooklyn. I had an early morning that Monday getting back to the Hilton for the panel; that went well, and then I found myself on the train back to Back Bay Station.

It wasn’t the most convenient trip in the world, but I had fun, and I got to see more of the city than I’ve seen in previous visits. I first visited New York in March of 2005, almost ten years ago — I was 28, and I was invited to audition for the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program. Obviously I didn’t get in, but it was a nice first opportunity to go. I saw Samson et Delilah at the Met with José Cura and Denyce Graves, Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, and went up to the top of the Empire State Building. Good times. I stayed in Midtown on that trip, at the Wellington Hotel next to Carnegie Hall, and on my way to the Brooklyn Diner last weekend I found myself walking past them and simultaneously thinking, “Hey! I’ve been here!” and “My God, has it really been ten years since that first trip?”

Since 2005, I’ve been to the city rather happenstantially. Later that same year I visited St. Vlad’s, thinking, as many young men do who are new converts and thus excitable, that maybe the priesthood might be in my future. I took the opportunity to take the train down to meet a friend for dinner and a Broadway show; I repeated this on another visit to St. Vlad’s in 2008. My next time out that way was New Year’s 2011/2012, when we went out to New Jersey for our usual extravaganza and spent an afternoon at Chelsea Market. In the time we’ve been in Boston, we’ve passed through New York a couple of times while driving elsewhere, and then the Sunday after Christmas we drove down to spend a couple of days with Bloomington friends who were there visiting family.

It’s been a curious experience getting to know cities like New York and Chicago and Boston and Washington, DC and even London and Athens in my 30s. Being born in Alaska and growing up in the Pacific Northwest in a family that had absolutely no reason or desire to go to any of those places, if we went anywhere, the overall goal was usually sunny weather or a family-friendly attraction or both. We drove from Wenatchee to Florida in 1981 to see the first shuttle take off; we flew to Hawaii in 1984; we went to Disneyland in 1986. I spent a week in Palm Springs with my grandparents in 1987, in 1993 I visited Indiana for the first time for the International Thespian Society Festival at Ball State University in Muncie, and then I got to go to Florida again in 1994 on a choir trip. 1994-2002 saw me going to Alaska every so often to see family, and then to Victoria, B.C. for our honeymoon, but a 2002 trip to Chicago to see Bryn Terfel in Sweeney Todd at the Lyric Opera of Chicago marked a first substantial visit to one of the “big cities”, and then it was 2007 before I got to visit Europe for the first time.

From a certain perspective, it’s perhaps fair to say that growing up, places like New York didn’t actually exist. They were movie sets and backdrops for books, but you couldn’t actually go and visit them. Perhaps not unlike how pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism was the default way of presenting Christianity in the media (at least when I was growing up), film and TV seemed to default to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco for the normative experience of “America”. In both cases, what was presented had absolutely nothing to do with my experience of Protestant life in the suburban part of western Washington state. Subways and trains weren’t real. Skyscrapers weren’t real (until Columbia Center was built in Seattle, and then suddenly we had “the tallest building west of the Mississippi”, at least for awhile). Brownstones weren’t real, nor were buildings that were much older than 40-50 years. Apartments and neighborhoods weren’t really real. Schools that were named with “P.S.” followed by a number weren’t real. Heck, a climate with four seasons wasn’t real. Gangs and street violence and drugs weren’t real, too (until they were, and then the area lost its collective mind; as much as “midnight basketball” is code for “stupid government ideas that don’t solve problems”, Seattle basically did the equivalent of banning “midnight basketball”).

At the same time, I’m also aware that when I visit New York in 2015, it’s not even close to being the same New York that I would have visited in, say, 1985, for a whole host of reasons (gentrification and 9/11 being among them). Still, it’s hard to walk around the city at all without the awe of a 10 year old, at least for me. Would I ever live there? Sure, in a heartbeat, if I had a job that meant I could afford to live there and raise a family (granted, I’m not sure all parties who would have to be involved in the decision would be for it). Boston has at the very least been a really nice compromise, a big step up from where we were, with pretty much everything that I was missing.

Something I at least think I detect in Boston, New York, and Chicago — I’m less able to speak about, say, San Francisco, having spent next to no time there — is an American cultural identity that is united more around the common experience of a place than the place being the destination of homogenous, like-minded people. To put it another way, having been born and having grown up in places that are occupied by people trying to get away, what I see in Boston, New York, and Chicago are the places occupied by the people who stayed. Ironically, I feel more at home in all three of those cities now than I did in Seattle by the time I left, and certainly far more than I ever did in Bloomington. It gets tricky to talk about this without romanticizing it, which isn’t the goal, and I’m talking as somebody who struggles with a sense of rootlessness to begin with, but it does make for a very different perception of a place. It might very well be no more than wide-eyed “grass is greener” syndrome, which is part of why I say it’s interesting getting to know these places for the first time in my 30s. I know that Theodore isn’t going to remember much about this year, but I’m glad to have had the opportunity to bring him out here so that he does get some of this in his system early. Next month he’ll get to spend 10 days in Seattle, too. He may not remember it well, but somewhere in his memory he’ll know that these places exist.

Writ large, I realize that as a historian I study a lot of places with a similar kind of personal remove. I theoretically can actually go visit them, but mostly I haven’t, not yet, and even when I do, they won’t really be the same places I’m studying. No, you can’t go back to Constantinople… And then, yes, there’s probably low-hanging fruit on this topic where religion is concerned, too. I can fancy myself a city kid all I want by converting to Orthodoxy and going to a Greek church in the Northeast, but it won’t ever change the fact that I’m a white kid who was born in Alaska and grew up going to an Evangelical church in a suburb of Seattle, right? And choice is tricky to justify.

Anyway. I don’t really know that I have a point here, so it probably won’t get anybody very far trying to find one. Just chewing on some things.


Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 212,545 hits

Flickr Photos

IMG_3558





More Photos