Saturday, July 18, 2009

Around Boston

To know Boston better, this summer I did some sightseeing.

Bunker Hill - The Boston Tea Party attractions are currently under renovation and will reopen only in summer 2010. Until then, I did the next best thing and headed to the North End, to Charlestown, MA. This is where the famous Battle of Bunker Hill was fought and a monument erected at the spot. I climbed 294 to the top for a panoramic view of the Bay State.

View from the top

Museum of Fine Arts - Because not visiting here would be simply inexcusable, I spent a day tat MFA learning about Greek culture and trying to understand artwork. For example, did you know that the Ancient Greek buried their dead in a large stone casket of sorts, called a sarcophagus, which etymoligically means, flesh-eating. The building is beautiful and the different sections eclectic, with modern and much older displays in separate rooms. But the layout left me befuddled so I was going back and forth to make sure I had seen everything.

The USS Constitution - After I came back from Bunker Hill, I told my professor about my trip and he sent me back to Charlestown to see the grand USS Constitution or the oldest commissioned warship in service, at the Navy Shipyard. Turns out, the word "scuttlebutt", which means rumours, comes from the double-butted water cooler aboard Navy ships such as this one, where sailors would swap stories and gossip.

The Cassin Young - Alongside the USS Constituion and also open to public viewing was this ship, which personally I found more interesting. The interiors have been restored and preserved remarkably well.

To get to the shipyard, Pu and I took a ferry from Boston's Long Wharf across the blue Charles.

John F. Kennedy's birthplace - Who knew that the former president, whose entirely family are originally Bostonians, was born just a few streets away from where I stayed! 85 Beals Street has been converted into a national site for public viewing, complete with a guided tour by uniformed rangers. Rose Kennedy, the president's mother, bought back the family home from the owners at the time and reconstructed the interiors according to what it was like inside, when Kennedy was a little boy. All restoration, down to the details of the linen, were done from memory and have been tried to mirror the originals as closely as possible, we were told.

JFK Museum - A tribute to America's royalty, the JFK Museum in Dorchester documents the life of the Kennedys.

4th of July - During the summer, the Fourth of July celebrations allwoed M and I to watch fireworks by the Esplanade. Although that meant a four-hour wait and it was far too cold for that time of year, even if we were by the water, the firworks were beautiful.

The Freedom trail: To know more about Massachusetts' significant contribution to American history, I took a tour of the freedom trail or a red brick pathway that has been laid out in Boston to connect points of historic importance. My tour guide was a portly gentleman dressed in traditional colonial attire. From him, I learned that "Beacon Hill" got its name from the practice of raising a torch at the center of the hill to warn locals of an approaching army or attack. Since Boston was surrounded by so much water, commniucation was difficult. Since then, the hill has been leveled and the proud Massachusetts Statehouse now stands there. Quick historical clarification - when Paul Revere went riding through the town ot warn people, he didn't say, "The British are coming," because they were all British! What he did say was, "The redcoats are coming." Very different.

Follow the red brick road - The Freedom Trail.

My tour guide at Paul Revere's Tomb in the Granary Burial Ground by Boston Common.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Reading List

Here's what I read during the summer:

Marrying Anita - Fealress, flirty, female writer Anita Jain decides to take on New Delhi with New York coursing through her veins. Having become an Indian parents' worst nightmare, the single, 31-year-old, Harvard graduate travels across the world to the place her parents left so many years ago for sunnier Sacremento shores, in search of a husband. Her quest for the perfect mate leads her in to the arms of the city itself - for its friendship, it's spirit, for the comfort that comes from finding an identity.

The Man who Owns the News - The lowdown on The Wall Street Journal takeover from the Bancroft family by media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. Gaining unprecedented access and thus astounding detail, Vantiy Fair correspondent, Michael Wollf reveals the eccentricities and genius that is Murdoch. The narrative that includes few direct quotes is candid, engaging. But the writer gets in to the annoying habit of overusing a word once he introduces it. Don't blame me if I don't feel like hearing "zeitgist," leitmotif" or "flotilla" anytime soon! With a clearer understanding of the bespectacled Aussie, let's just say I'm making much better use of my WSJ subscription.

Backcast - Boston University professor, Lou Ureneck travels the rapid waters of Alaska on a shoestring budget with his 18-year-old son. Torn by a failed marriage, a beaten ego and a haunting past, Ureneck tries to build bridges with Adam. For the pain of a father's heart, for a love of life or for the sheer joy that is this writer's ability to construct fluid text, read Backcast. Needless to say, I view my Busness and Economics professor in a whole new light.

Maximum City - Suketu Mehta uncovers the seamier underbelly of Mumbai. Dim-lit lanes, overflowing gutters, prostitutes and closely-packed's all in here and not for the faint-hearted. I thought he got a little carried away with the sex theme that seemed to be more prevalent than other elements. In comparison, I likes Shantaram slightly better for it's balance. But Mehta gets full points for his comic timing, easy style and engaging narrative. I take it as a very good sign when a book is becoming nauseatingly overwhelming but a reader can't set it down.

I began reading Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas that examines race relations in Boston. Extremely intersting topic and well told in parts. Sadly, it couldn't hold my attention. I intend on returning to it a little later. The Google Story, Kitchen Confidential, Lies my Mother Told Me, The World is Flat, Sea of Poppies, A Suitable Boy, The White Tiger and Unaccostomed Earth update the ongoing reading list.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My day in the sun

The sun was out for one the few times since November and I wasn't about to give up the chance to enjoy it. At around lunchtime, Italian food cravings translated to Mediterranean pizza at the Prudential Mall food court. Seated at the outdoor terrace overlooking a busy street, I bit into olives, feta cheese and tomatoes.

To be in Boston and not sample some of New England's finest ice cream, and possibly one of the most famous in the world, is a crime. Although, the brand is now available in India, if you are willing to put down more that Rs. 600 for a family-size tub.

I bought a cone of two scoops of Ben and Jerry's ice cream in a waffle cone. The flavors I chose were chocolate macadamia fudge and the signature chocolate cookie dough ice cream. I have to admit, I enjoyed the chocolate macadamia fudge better than the cookie dough. Somehow, the name seemed like too close an interpretation of the actual flavor, large doughy bits embedded in vanilla ice cream. Not such a big fan.

Then, I turned into a true local and found a cool marble bench, slipped off my footwear and alternated placing my feet on the green grass or the marbletop, as I read a book. When I had soaked in as much Vitamin D as I could handle, I took the T to nearby Longfellow Bridge. I walked, gazing at the blue Charles alongside. Sigh, Boston looked so beautiful. Here's what I mean.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Summer Movie List

Food Inc. - After I got back from summer vacation and waited for the rest of my friends to return from their trips, I watched this film, about the food industry in the United States. A behind-the-scenes look at farming practices, poultry and cattle-rearing, potato-growing, and other unappetizing details that the general populace isn't likely to know. Definitely worth a watch although be warned: You may lose your appetite for just about anything afterwards!

Whatever Works - This talkfest by Woody Allen came a s a total surprise. A friend suggested going to this and I had no idea how it would turn out. Hilarious, bizarre plotline, strangley endearing protagonist and alarmingly engaging for something that seems so mundane on paper. I'd describe it as a less-glamorous version of Linklater's, Before Sunset. And of course, something like this is only possible in New York City!

Valentino - Mindblowingly good is what this film is! If you haven't already, you have to watch this one. Not because it's about one of the greatest designer's of all time, or that it so beautifully documents milestones in world fashion history. Because this is the closest insight you will get to the mysterious, luxurious, hypnotic world of Valentino Garavani. Shot in a non-boring documentary-style, with personal interviews and footage from the celebration to mark the designer's 40 years in fashion - it's been a while since I watched a film with such rapt attention.

Julie&Julia - How could I pass on a story that combined two of my greatest loves - writing and food. Meryl Streep...sigh. Does she ever have a bad day on the set? Does she sometimes forget her lines? Is she ever so tried that she oversleeps and is late to work? Does she ever get a zit? No? Never? Okay, just wanted to get that out of my system. She is flawless, in potraying legendary culinary writer, Julia Child. From the way she says "Bonjour!" to playing a doting wife. Magical. Many more years to her outstanding acting talent. Amy Adams fits well but her character is a little depressing. The film gets extra points for featuring Boston!

Postgrad - Alexis Bledel has been a favorite for a while, ever since Gilmore Girls. So her own movie where she's just out of college and searching for a job in the publishing industry - too close to the story of my life to pass on. Entertaning, witty and everything I wanted from this movie to tell me I'm not insane for choosing a career in journalism.

New York and Love Aaj Kal - Don't judge me. The entire two months that I was on vacation in India, moviemakers and film distributors were in some sort of tussle and wouldn't release any new Bollywood flicks in cinemas. The moratorium lifted a day after I left! So I had to get my annual dose of Hindi films. Liked the first one for a bold storyline, which sadly fizzled toward the end. The second is mindless entertainment with well-dressed Deepika Padukone to appreicate.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mastery past the master's degree

Today the New York Times carried an opinion piece about the value of a master's degree. A panel of financial pundits and academic gurus commented on how a higher qualification could be necessary or not. I was thoroughly frustrated after reading the whole thing, something that rarely happens when reading NYT, because it reached no definitive conclusion. Yes, perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a clear-cut answer. But a more concerted effort in the direction would have been appreciated. The article just seemed to skirt around the issue.

Anyway, what I took away from the text was that graduate schooling in engineering, medicine or law were obviously valuable while the same for the liberal arts or social sciences was a waste of time and money. Let's remember this was an opinion piece.

I scouted Romanesko for the latest posting of jobs and was pleased to find that most preferred master's degrees and some specified one from a J-school. But that's not the point. Whether you choose to get a master's degree in business management or oceanography, my opinion is that it should reflect a thought-process behind the decision. The person needs to seem, at least on paper, like someone who made the effort of investing in themselves to be better at their job and not a wanderer who enrolled because they couldn't figure out what to do with their life. Students forced into college to wait out the recession are more easily forgiven. The person should come across as someone interested in life and have a sharp sense of curiosity with a definite drive to bring excitement to their work. If an employer recognizes these qualities in someone who actually possess them, it's hard for it not to be a win-win situation. And in that case, a master's degree in infant-rearing, needlework or any other seemingly useless concentration is well worth the investment. But that's just my two cents.