Thickest New England

So warm up Christmas is upon us and by that I mean, Thanksgiving.  Uh, that holiday could not come soon enough.  I am very tired and I haven’t had any vacation in nearly a year.  Five days off.  Five days when I don’t have to work or lesson plan or worry if I’m going to make it to my next job on time.  HEAVEN.

Usually during an extended holiday with the family, we go on a little road trip, usually to some thickly New England destination.  Salem, Gloucester or Newburyport.  Now let me back track here for just a second.  My parents are the most New England Yankee Brahmin Polish people on the planet.  Sometimes I truly believe that they are both the reincarnations of some long lost Lowells or Cabot Lodges.  More on those folks in a bit.

Anyway, we’ve made this road trip many a time to Newburyport and hey I like it.  I’m pretty thickly New England at this point as well.  I proudly wear my New England Patriots hat now and I occasionally even drop an R here and there.

We visited our usual haunts.  The bookstore with the cafe in it.  The British store with the insane Cadbury selection.  The olive oil store.  This time though we added another stop.  We went to the Maritime Museum in Newburyport.  Of course there were remnants and reminders of Newburyport’s glorious past as a global whaling power, but there was also a room dedicated to son of Newburyport John Marquand.  Who was he?  Well read on.

John Marquand is a novelist who I learned about in the early 2000s when I was still living in Washington DC.  On my way to work in the morning, every morning, I would read the Washington Post.  One day there was an article about forgotten novelists.  John Marquand was on the list, so I purchased one of his books called HM Pulham Esquire about this Brahmin who suffers in quiet desperation.  Like they all do.  Anyway, it was a rip roaring yarn.

I knew there would be things about John Marquand when they mentioned novelists.  His at home library had been reconstructed in the maritime museum.  I knew some about his background but I decided to look up his biography on wikipedia and boy, was I not disappointed.  Oh, I was not.  I can’t even paraphrase it.  It is THAT GOOD.  I’m going to copy and paste it below and copiously credit wikipedia for providing me with this bio:

Marquand was the son of Philip Marquand and his wife Margaret née Fuller, he was a scion of an old Newburyport, Massachusetts, family. He was a great-nephew of 19th-century writer Margaret Fuller and a cousin of Buckminster Fuller, who gained fame in the 20th century as the inventor of the geodesic dome. Marquand was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in the New York suburbs. When financial reverses broke up the family’s comfortable household, he was sent to Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he was raised by his eccentric aunts, who lived in a crumbling Federal Period mansion surrounded by remnants of the family’s vanished glory. (Marquand’s ancestors had been successful merchants in the Revolutionary period; Margaret Fuller and other aunts had been actively involved with the Transcendentalist and abolitionist movements.)

Marquand attended Newburyport High School, where he won a scholarship that enabled him to attend Harvard College. As an impecunious public school graduate in the heyday of Harvard’s Gold Coast, he was an unclubbable outsider.

Thanks wikipedia. Thank you very much.  I mean that first paragraph is normal, normal.  Yeah, he was born.  Financial reversals.  Not great.  Eccentric aunts.

But that second paragraph and we are off to the races so to speak.  “Impecunious public school graduate” — you mean he’s poor.  I mean he was poor.  “An unclubbable outsider” — OK did someone’s tea sipping sarcastic Brahmin grandmother write that?  That got more than a chuckle from me, let’s just put it that way.

So yeah, so translation Wikipedia to English is that dude, dude did the work and got himself a scholarship to the Harvard and zoomed back into the elite.  What made Marquand different though was that he choose to satirize the group from which he had come.  A blue blood satirist who had been in the club but had become impecuniously unclubbable but was back in the club to make fun of the club.  Delicious.

I was trying to describe him to my mother and I finally said — he’s like Truman Capote but with less venom, not in need of the venom transplant midway into writing a novel.  Now even I’m tempted to read another Marquand novel.

Anyway, there are photos because there are always photos, that are what else?  Thickly New England.  I wonder what the Brahmin grandmother would say about me.  A foreigner who picked themselves up by their bootstraps?  I mean how unclubbable!!!!!

Every little narrative

I have the best schedule.  There I said it.  One time I heard Tom Friedman, the New York Times editorialist say that he has the best job.  He visits different countries and gets to write about them.  Well, fair enough, but I really have the best schedule.  I work Monday to Thursday and I have Friday off to just kind of do whatever I want or what I call rejoining the land of the living.  Now the days from Monday to Thursday are long and I do work on Saturday but its a very good schedule.

A few Fridays ago, never mind how many, a very dear friend asked me to join her on a small road trip to New Hampshire.  Usually I just see it covered in snow, so I thought it would be nice to see it just regular.

Off we went to this antiques shop in the middle of nowhere.  I mean I’m sure it was in the middle of somewhere but I didn’t even really know where we were.  It was raining but as soon as I walked in, I found the shop really fascinating.  Of course I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures immediately.  I quickly asked if I could take pictures in the store and the owner said “just don’t take pictures of me.”  It was kind of funny.  He said it in this dry, droll kind of way.

It struck me that every single object in the store had some kind of separate story.  There was a door that I thought was a door to state legislature because it had the same kind of font on it that I had seen in the Massachusetts State House.  It turned out it was a door that had been used in a TV show to supposedly be the Rhode Island legislature.

There were countless claw footed bath tubs and even a stand up shower.  There were these little bottles that doubtless has some kind of turn of the century wellness medicines in them with names of companies that are far out of business.  There were entire sections with just doors in them or just bannisters, all of different architectural styles and from different time periods.

It was really interesting because truly, every object tells a story about us, who we are and who we were:

The Full Snow Report

The flakes from the sky.  I thought I’d have more time with the fall, but winter is here.

The first snow of the season is again something I have grown in appreciation for since I moved to Boston.  The snow is such an integral part of living here that the first snow is cause for celebration or consternation or whatever.  I know what it means for me.  Time to get my skis waxed and prepare for the best six months of the year.

Today when I saw the snow falling I decide to take a little turn around North Station, where I usually end up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Per usual, I was only going to walk a block or two.  My days are exhausting, particularly Tuesdays and Thursdays.  But I kept walking, all the way over to Government Center.  The Soviet city hall is actually more attractive by night, covered in snow.  Oh and I went over to photograph the little area between Haymarket and Faneuil Hall that I call the one block of Europe, covered in snow.  That stretch gets yet more beautiful in the snow.

Let it snow!!!!!!!!

I’m Polish, Right?

Yeah, that title is funny and here I’m going to muse for a while.  Scroll down if you just come for the photography and not the unstructured musings.

So this past weekend, I visited the Riot again in Pennsylvania.  Those visits are so fun and somehow recharge me and make everything OK afterwards.

So Riot-Mom told me that she had an invite to a birthday party and the name was really long and full of consonants.  I asked if they ended in “ski” and Riot-Mom couldn’t remember.  It was Riot 6’s friend whose birthday it would be.

We get there and I hear Polish.  Everywhere.  Everyone at the party was speaking Polish.  Every single person.  I started joking with Riot-Mom that she’s in the minority this time because we all speak Polish and she doesn’t.  More shocking was the fact that Riot-Mom, despite our 23 year friendship, she had never heard me speaking Polish.  She probably had no idea that I spoke the language as well as I did.

But here’s the thing when I’m around Polish people.  They are always nice enough, but we really don’t have that much in common.  There’s small talk in Polish but we really don’t have that much in common.  It’s a few minutes of fun but then there’s no connection.  I guess that’s kind of sad, but I guess it’s an illustration of how I feel about being Polish.

Every time I teach a class, I come in to the room and I write my first and last name on the board.  There’s always laughter because my last name is so long and full of so many consonants.  Then I tell the story.  Yes, I’m American.  Well now I’m American.  I came to America when I was a little kid and I learned English in nursery school.

But every time I tell the story, it rings hollow.  I know I learned the language because my mom told me I did.  I don’t remember it and as a kid, I didn’t even think moving to a new country was all that usual.  I watched a documentary once about Gloria Vanderbilt, whose life is a million times more interesting that mine and she said if you grow up in a jungle, you think everyone grows up in a jungle.  My parents left their country when I was little and we settled elsewhere.  I mean don’t everyone’s parents leave their country?  I mean isn’t that normal?

I think I was an adult in my 30s when I realized that that isn’t normal.  But the Poland thing has always been there.

As a kid, I had one dream.  I was going to go to the Olympics in 1992 as a gymnast and win a gold medal, but in my dream, the US National anthem is playing in the background, even though as a kid, we were waiting to get our green cards.

For the first seven years that we lived here, Poland was part of my home life but rarely my outside life.  I saw the country on maps and my parents spoke the language but I had no idea about the place.

Then we went to Poland in 1988.  That was the first time I had seen this country in a way that I could even remember.  I remember being shocked that everyone was speaking this language I had only ever my mother and father speak.  We spent time with so many relatives and I spoke my poor Polish with everyone.  Well, tried to.

And we took my favorite photo of all time:


I remember the day really clearly the day this photo was taken.  It was the last day of our visit and my mom decided to take some photos of us together.  There was a thunderstorm outside.  The thunder was freaking out the dog and he started shaking.  In the picture, my grandfather is pushing us together.  I was really afraid of the dog.

Still though after the visit and subsequent ones, I never really felt all that Polish.  A couple of times a year, the Polish thing would sort of pop up in my normal life.  A name or a historical event.  I’d meet another Polish person.  Some awkward conversation would ensue.

One time I remember my dad opening this book and telling me about Poland as a country and then closing the book.  That’s kind of how it always was with that.

When I look at Facebook now, I see all the names of my family.  Mirek, Waldek, Gosia, Halina, I mean it’s all so Polish.  And then there’s me posting stories about turkey sightings in Brookline and professing my undying love for Big Papi.

I’ve never even had a really big group of all Polish friends.  Obviously, I’ve been in places with a lot of Polish people, but I’ve never been in a situation with a lot of Polish people I’m not related to or they are of my choosing.  Among my regular friends, I get to choose but with the Poles, the contact is so sporadic that there’s not a chance to choose the people I really want to be friends with.

At my age now I’m not sure if I’ll ever really feel Polish.  I’ve sort of resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have my name to entertain people with and the language comes in handy when I’m learning cognates in other languages.  I speak the language a couple of times a year, but in a way I feel like some people are the places they adopt, not the identity that has been assigned to them.  That’s where I am, I guess.

Well, let’s see some pics of the happy Polish and non-Polish tots from the weekend:

pennsylvania birthday 2pennsylvania birthday party

All the Right Moves

As a kid I channeled my love of movement into gymnastics, a sport I love to this day.  As an adult, I always feel like I want to infuse my photographs with a sense of movement, like I just caught the person mid jump or mid move.

I hope I have all the right moves (in the photos that is):

boston comicon 2018 kissrevere beach people on the beach 1revere beach people on the beach 2revere beach people on the beach 3revere beach people on the beach 4revere beach woman in bikinirevere beach woman on beach umbrella

As You Wish

A couple of days ago, I was scrolling through social media, as you do.  I spotted a photo of a friend with Cary Elwes, none other than Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts of Princess Bride fame.  I did what most mature adults do.  I went into a jealous rage.  Nah, I’m kidding.  But of course I also wanted to meet Cary Elwes.  A few minutes later, another friend chimed in that Cary Elwes would be at Comicon, which I had already bought a ticket to attend.

The Princess Bride is a seminal movie for people my age.  I was ten years old when it came out and it was the first movie I was allowed to watch that wasn’t a cartoon.  Naturally, I was obsessed with this movie, as most people in my generation are.  I remember a very long conversation with one of my cousins about how she preferred the evil Chris Sarandon as King Humperdinck to Wesley.  I argued that I preferred Wesley because he was cute as a button.

As the years have gone on, I have further fallen in love with the movie.  There’s the incomparable Andre the Giant, whose size is legendary but warm side was less well known.  Robin Wright told this sweet story about how he used to protect her from the rain by putting his hand over her head.  I also always love Miracle Max, the bitter miracle maker and his shrewish wife.  I spent most of my junior high school years yelling Miracle Max’s lines at random people in my school.  Completely unrelated is the fact that I wasn’t terribly popular and I got in trouble for being too loud a lot.

And Vicinni.  Oh Vicinni.  The annoying know it all!!!!!!  The leader of the rag tag group of sword fighter and giant.  Into adulthood, I have continually repeated his character’s quotes.  I have a former professor who I actually refer to as Vicinni because he’s Sicilian.  And I challenged him when death was on the line and he was not about to die!!!!!  My former professor as far as I know has never tried to start a land war in Asia, although there is still time!!!!!!  I cannot count the number of times I have randomly yelled out “INCONCEIVABLE” when something really obvious has happened.  Lastly, a magnet featuring Vicinni’s smiling face has graced my refrigerator for the past eight years.  Oh and when I go to New York, my favorite Sicilian pizza has Vicinni’s face on it.  So yeah, the man might be kind of an obsession for me.

Anyway, we’re already at paragraph five and I haven’t even started saying why I’m telling you all of this.  So I did in fact attend Comicon and I did get to see the one and only Cary Elwes at the event today.  Did a middle aged Boston school teacher yell out “I Love You” when he took the stage??  I don’t know.  Maybe?

Cary Elwes kindly sat and told wonderful stories about his career.  He described being chided by Al Pacino early in his career for not acting enough and not keeping his career momentum going.  Of course he had his own anecdote about working with Andre the Giant.  It involved Andre the Giant cracking off a fart that probably registered on the Richter scale.  I don’t usually laugh too hard at fart jokes because I generally do not find them funny but when Cary Elwes tells a joke about Andre the Giant farting I mean you kind of have to laugh, so I laughed.  OK because this time it was funny.

Here’s some shots of the man himself at the Q&A:


Cary Elwes also told very charming stories about such INCONCEIVABLE things like learning how to sword fight from the same people who taught Errol Flynn how to sword fight.  And then the session ended with Cary Elwes going off to his next destination.  I would have to live without a selfie with a member of the cast of the Princess Bride.  Or would I?

So my friends and I went off to get lunch and relax.  We walked around a bit afterwards.  We spotted some actors from Back to the Future and other movies.  Some actors had crowds next to them, others not.

AND THEN I SPOTTED NONE OTHER THAN WALLACE SHAWN.  Neither of my friends were as obsessed with the Princess Bride or the man himself.  So, I approached Mr. Shawn calmly and told him how much I love his work.  Nah, I totally turned into a teenage fangirl and told him I’d been a fan since Annie Hall!!!!!  (Actually it was Manhattan).  He goes “Annie Hall, you weren’t even alive then!!!!!  Then I did tell him about how I had a magnet with his picture on it on my fridge, about nicknaming a professor after him and how much I loved his character on Young Sheldon.  OK I mean I might have overwhelmed the guy a bit.

Then we started talking about what I did and I told him I was an ESL professor and that I worked at different colleges around Boston.  We had a quite enjoyable conversation about that and then we took our photo.  Per usual I would have just taken a formal, well composed picture of him from far away, but the meeting was so much fun that I decided to put in our picture together.  I know.  I look like Andre the Giant standing next to him:


Another picture of me up here in the 11 years I’ve had this blog???  INCONCEIVABLE!!!!!!!!

And Then The Fireworks Started

So yes, America’s birthday just passed yesterday.  I’ve spent the past ten July 4ths in Massachusetts, celebrating the holiday like it was some kind of mid summer Christmas.  Yesterday was no exception.  The early part of the day was spent eating hamburgers while wearing one of my American flag t-shirts.  The latter part of the day I went to watch the fireworks in Winthrop.

Every July 4th, I think about my journey to becoming an American and how that’s not really how it was supposed to be.  I was born in Poland and at best, what life had set out for me was to speak English relatively well, not to adopt an entirely new identity unto myself.

Becoming an American full on was also a slow process.  I got my green card when I was ten and could have become an American citizen when I was 15, but I steadfastly refused.  I went to a high school where the principal, Frank Ehrhart mispronounced and laughed at my last name every time he had to present me with my honor roll certificate.  I certainly did not want to be a part of a place that thought my name was funny and that my achievements didn’t even deserve the proper mention.

Twenty years passed before I became an American citizen.  Becoming an American citizen is still one of the proudest moments of my life and one of the funniest episodes ever.  There was this really young man, maybe 16, next to me from the Dominican Republic getting his citizenship the same time as me.  He turned to me and said he didn’t know the words to the Star Spangled Banner.  I told him they were up on the big screen in front of us.  Then he asked me for my phone number.  Oh and we got this video with George W. Bush, looking young and ready for the presidency.  It looked like the video had been made on his first day on the job, before his energy had been sapped and the stresses of the job had really gotten to him.

Not too long after becoming a citizen, two interesting things happened.  I moved to Massachusetts, the most American place out there and I started working with international students.  Both of these things made me more American.  When I tell the international students about history, I say “we” fought a war against the British.  Nobody thought “we” would win.  “We” had a weaker army.  Technically its not “we” because my forebears weren’t British or American, rather probably in Germany or Russia, or even Poland, which would disappear from the map not too soon after the American revolution.

This year though, the thinking about being an American has particular poignancy.  Here we are two years into a Trump presidency.  Just writing that makes me feel like I’m living in a Simpson’s episode.  I don’t want to set off some kind of firestorm here or get hate mail but we’re now a country with child internment camps with quotes from the Art of the Deal on the walls.  Trump picked a fight with Canada.  CANADA.  With the adorable prime minister with the tattoos and the progressive politics.  Every news story shows a country that is getting uglier by the minute.

Yet somehow I see a bright spot in here.  I know, but stay with me.  I recently started teaching a law student about the American legal system, which is really just an excuse for me to go on about how much I love Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I know this is cool these days, but hey, count me in.

I’m relatively late to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg love fest, but I’m now firmly part of it.  It all started over at my wonderful feminist gym, where they advertise a class where you can do the same work out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg does.  I thought this was great, because I knew she was a feminist icon, but I didn’t realize how much of an icon.  Oh and that she can do 20 pushups at 85 years old.  I’m nearly half her age and I can’t even do one push up.

I thought I knew a fair amount about Justice Ginsburg, but lately I’ve delved more into her background.  There’s a fabulous interview she did with CNN, where she walks into the room and they play “Notorious” by the Notorious BIG.  Her internet moniker is the Notorious RBG and she embraces the title and loves the comparisons to the late rapper.  There’s one part in particular where she is asked if she always wanted to be a justice on the Supreme Court or even a judge.  She says that when she was growing up, even aspiring to be a lawyer as a woman was outside of the realm of possibility.  She was one of nine women in a law school class of 500 men when she graduated.  The odds were not in her favor.

I also particularly love her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia.  You couldn’t find two people who were more opposite.  The Notorious RBG is all about the constitution as a living document.  Scalia thought you should follow the constitution word for word.  But there are a lot of videos of her and “Nino” just being great friends and getting along really well, which is so admirable in a time when bipartisanship doesn’t exist anymore.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg says its important for the court to be collegial and for the most part they get along because that makes it easier for them to reach decisions.

So as I got to thinking about what America is, I decided to look at the example of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  How much more of an American story can you have?  The daughter of immigrants, who was Jewish, a woman, a mother who became a Supreme Court justice?  And not just any Supreme Court justice but one with her own theme songs and memes about her???  Its not just a story about perseverance but also of realizing the possibilities from a potentiality.  Vartan Gregorian said that America is a potentiality and I completely believe that.

Anyway, enough talk.  Let’s see some photos.  This year I broke tradition and I went to the fireworks in Winthrop, which is this lovely seaside community where a good friend of mine lives.  A good friend who just became an American herself.

Winthrop and the Fireworks: