Thursday, March 31, 2011

Caleb Nelson


Whistles. I’m tired of whistles. A Boatswain’s whistle sounds at reveille, when the captain speaks and for sweepers. It’s a tradition to call sweepers two times a day, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore. The whistles are a lengthy high-pitched series of notes. They are inescapable, coming from speakers in every dingy nook and passage. They even sound on the flight deck, drowning out the jet engines. I stop work when they sound; they are mind consuming. I suppose that is the point, but they make me feel like ramming my head at any jutting bits of steel I see. It reminds me how trapped I am. At least I’m paid to be trapped. That makes this different from jail. That, and I don’t get my own cell.


During his last three months in the Navy, Caleb Nelson wrote. A lot. The above passage is from a series of letters he sent to his mother during his last three months of service detailing the encounters, responsibilities and musings of a low-ranking aviation electrician ready to leave it all behind.


Nelson is tall and lanky, with bright blue eyes and a quiet disposition. He grew up in Dorchester, the son of a plumber and teacher, both natives of New York who moved to Boston to raise their children. Nelson was home schooled for much of his youth, but received recruiting materials from the navy in the mail the summer before his senior year. He says he was “enamored” by the video showing jets flying off the carriers and liked the idea of “seeing action.”


This unassuming 25 year old doesn’t seem like the type to enlist, but the UMass Boston senior--who is double majoring in English and Philosophy and Public Policy with a concentration in Professional Writing--shipped off to the Navy a month after graduating high school and spent four years working on F-18 jets. He always knew he wanted to go to college eventually and saw the Navy as a way to finance his education, but a small mistake he made while readying one of the jets for take-off reminded Nelson that he was much more interested in academics than spending his days on a carrier.


“Launching that jet and almost killing the pilot, that threw me for a loop. I was like, ‘man, I am not good at this,’” he says jokingly. Although he lost his plane captain license and was demoted to jet maintenance, he remained in the Navy.


I painted intakes today, spraying white gloss in them. I can feel the paint balling in the back of my throat like mucus I can’t swallow. I hate painting intakes. It is cramped in there, and after a few squirts from my gun the air becomes a white mist masking the exit. The paint is so thin it seeps through my respirator, and I can almost feel the chemicals attacking my nervous system. The warning label says “known in California to cause permanent brain and nervous system damage in cases of frequent exposure.” I wonder how California knows. I’m sticky from it. My jersey clings to my arms and I feel the sweat building up around the edges of my goggles and respirator. A trickle of it rolls into my eye and I blink until it stops stinging. The heat in each breath seems to grow in intensity.


Nelson often found being in the Navy difficult, but credits the experience with helping him decide what he wanted to do with his life. “I was on watch one night and the CO and four crewmen crashed during a flight down to Texas to get supplies. The whole thing incinerated and they all died. That was the first time I was like ‘you know, I should be a journalist. I know something no one else knows.’ It’s kind of fucked up actually, I felt like I wanted to tell people.”


Eventually Nelson’s contract was up and he left the Navy. He took advantage of leftover leave days and spent the summer in Virginia Beach.


On June 4th we pulled into Norfolk Virginia, and I went on terminal leave for the last month of my Navy contract. We dropped 53 bombs on Iraq. That’s the only figure I remember. We left with a “job well done” from our admiral. Five thousand people, including me and not including all the other support people who provided us with supplies and information from the shore, spent eight months of their lives so 53 bombs could drop and destroy things that would have been used to destroy other things—hopefully. It’s all preventative.


When he began at UMass Boston that Fall, Nelson wanted to “do something other than just go to classes” so he started writing for the newspaper, The Mass Media. The desire to be a journalist only intensified and Nelson was elected editor-in-chief last semester. “There’s no way I would have been able to be editor-in-chief of the school newspaper right now if I had gone to college right out of high school, first of all because I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do, but I also wouldn’t have the drive or the experience to understand when something is not such a big deal. Also, it set me up financially so I could pay for school and not have to worry about anything. I’m glad I went to the military and I’m glad I went to college” says Nelson.


He is adamant that without the GI Bill he would not have been able to help finance his education. “I think the benefits are so much better now than they used to be. They really set you up. Mentally decompressing from such a strict environment where you’re forced to do exactly what people tell you…I think its really hard to transfer those skills into the real world. I think college is so important for anyone who’s been in the military. College really gives you an idea about how to be self-motivated” he says.


In addition to being a full-time student and editor, Nelson has several side projects in the works. He is a self-professed lover of stories and has been compiling the recollections of his grandfather for over three years. The sound bytes go on his website grandad.us and he continually works on editing the stories and finding time to record more. Nelson has also been working with SIM, the Student Immigrant Movement, to gather stories and interviews from students at UMass Boston about their experiences seeking citizenship and financial aid.


Nelson hopes to be a professional journalist someday, but admits that he is better suited to one-on-one interactions than the invasive techniques that news journalists must enact in order to “get the story.” While he often seems quiet and reserved, Nelson’s perceptiveness and talent for prose translates into an ability to take every situation--even if it is a few stagnant years spent in the Navy--and turn it into fodder for a great story.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Machine: Loud, Sweaty, Awesomely Homosexual

I could write about going to the Boston Public Library. I could write about going to Castle Island, to Faneuil Hall, to a movie premier, or any of the numerous adventures I’ve had in and around Boston. But, I’d rather write about that experience which stands out in the monotony of the past few weeks.

Let me transport you to a magical place, 1254 Boylston Street. Arrive at the appropriate time and you’ll feel steady vibrations pulsing underneath you. It’s not the Red Line or the Green Line. It’s The Machine.

I don’t know what image the name “Machine” evokes in your mind. In my mind there is a massive mechanism humming violently below Boylston Street, controlling with cogs, wheels, and levers all life in Boston. Unfortunately, there is no such machine. After forfeiting a ten dollar cover charge and passing through a miasma of secondhand cigarette smoke, you will realize the truth. The trembling is the sonorous crescendo of immense, underground speakers.
An image from The Machine's website. A decent swath of fellows
and ladies enjoying a bedazzled Christmas queer-tacular.



Holy sequins, guys, we’ve just entered one of Boston’s notorious gay clubs. Allow me to embrace my inner narrator in an attempt to describe the whole scene.

A long, rectangular bar straddles one side of the club, elevated above the dance floor by a single perilous step. Men and women encircle this alcoholic watering-hole. This quiet bunch stand alone together, shoulders touching but with no signs of interaction. They are the shy or the coy type, playing the game slowly and cautiously. Or they are the voyeuristic type, prying into a predominantly adolescent nightlife. Others among this diverse crew act as though they don’t want to be here. Most of them are older. Clinging to the bar like drowning men cling to anything that floats, they try to conceal their self-doubt in glasses of blue liquor. What could have brought these people to this place? The answer is likely depressing. They’ve come on a quest for love, companionship, something to cling to other than a glass and a cell phone, something animate and warm.

But The Machine is more than just a dance floor and a bar.

There are various elevations to this large room. With the exception of the wooden dance floor, every floor is covered with a deep blue carpet. Occasional tables with seats, empty islands in a tumultuous archipelago, are scattered here and there in this no-man’s-land.

There’s a coat check in a corner. Go here to keep your extra baggage safe in a back room for just two dollars per item. A line of dozen bodies huddles against the wall, waiting to shed their winter skins. Here, that average-looking guy you passed on the street molts his cocoon of layered clothes and dons a pair of sexy, skimpy, go-go hot pants. Cha ching, he forks over ten bucks just to bop around as near to naked as is allowed.

There is one other notable room in The Machine, one that I call “the oasis.” When you enter The Machine’s front doors then descend down three dozen steps into the belly of Boylston, you are given a choice. Door number one: forward through a glass portico is the main body of The Machine, where most of the dancing and boozing and pre-coital tomfoolery transpires. Door number two: to the left there is a well lit room with a few flat screen TVs, some pool tables, yellow couches, a small bar, a dart board. . . more like a tavern than a dance club. Most of all that room represents something my outing lacked – conversation. Call me old fashioned, but I like to talk to someone before I do anything with them. Also, this room adopts a golden color because of its lighting – it’s almost as though The Machine has its own built in Shangri-la for those of us who prefer silence and human interaction over eardrum-bursting beats and uncertain, seedy gyration.

Let’s return to the main room with which I am intimately familiar. This room isn’t bright and clean. It is dark and it is dank. An odor of smoke, alcohol, and cologne dripping off in sweat ferments the air. The smell is so potent it’s almost a taste, thick and gooey as melted cotton candy.

Now for the most important part of the club – the dancers.

Navigate between those two hunks undulating against stripper poles and you’ll find yourself in a thick drink of dancing hormonal beasts. The average age of the dancers in this dim-lit underground party decreases as you get closer to the nucleus of the dance floor.

Some are adrift, dancing with others indiscriminately. Strangers dancing against strangers inside this box of blinking light and heavy backbeats. These lascivious dancers move from guy to guy as easily as I move from aisle to aisle in Shaws.

There are some who are alone on the dance floor and remain in the same spot. There are others who came here with someone or found someone. There are the drag queens – men dressed in high heels, boas, skirts, and little else. There are the grinders, the hand-holders,  and the real dancers (who do more than bob up and down). Finally, there are knots of people like me. I’m stuck in the middle of a tight circle of friends, rarely venturing out into that vast, dangerous territory.
I should imagine that The Machine on a Tuesday night is not what
you had in mind for rehab. 

The Machine is a gay club at 1254 Boylston Street. They have loads of events . Friday is an 18+ dance night. There are drag shows on the weekends, trivia-nights on Tuesdays, and upstairs (a region I didn’t dare explore) they have “fetish-festivals.” If you want a good time with loud music and a bunch of sweaty, attractive strangers who will flirt with you, go to The Machine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fighting Words: The Voice of the Protest

Over the past month, we’ve watched a more-or-less peaceful revolution in Tunisia spread into neighboring countries along the Mediterranean in the same way a grass fire bolts through southern California. The current situation in the Middle East has garnered our media’s attention, much like a summer brush fire outbreak, and the popular revolt in Egypt has captured the same feelings of panic and voyeurism. We’ve watched the situation play out as Anderson Cooper was assaulted on the streets of Cairo by pro-Mubarak thugs. Then, the cable TV pundits organized themselves along party lines, with the right delivering ominous warnings of impending Caliphates and socialist uprisings worldwide, and the left taking the opportunity to criticize the diplomacy of administrations current and past. Amid all the spectacle and speculation, however, some very important people were left largely voiceless, and they were the ones down in Tahrir Square.

When the Mubarak administration took harsh measures to silence the protesters, like shutting down public internet service across Egypt, few options existed for a demonstrator on the streets to deliver his or her message to audiences across the globe. Deprived of Facebook, Twitter, and blog access, the Egyptian protesters returned to the timeless traditions of rally chants, protest songs, and shouted slogans to make their voices heard. While they may be low-tech, they are certainly not ineffective.

Primarily, and most obviously, slogans are an effective form of spreading their message. While this is easily taken for granted, consider for a moment that reporters and other agents of the press were being systematically targeted and removed from the Tahrir square area. Anyone with a video camera, voice recorder, or notepad might have been singled out for a round of b
eatings before being asked to leave the area. For a reporter this sort of situation is problematic, since it makes verbatim interviews nearly impossible. However, a catchy chant is memorable. A simple rhymed couplet like “Ahrba ahrba Gamal! Ant wabawk walandal!” (“Escape, escape Gamal! You and your father are scoundrels!”) can inform anyone listening that the protesters are not only angry with Hosni Mubarak, but also his son Gamal. Chants, such as this one, might let an astute reporter enter the protest area, memorize a few meaningful lines, then return to the safety of a field office or a hotel room in order to write a story based on the day’s events.

Secondly, though no less importantly, the chants serve as a way for protesters to engage in social bonding, and strengthen their resolve in the face of very dire circumstances. Make no mistake: the people gathered in Cairo to protest are in real physical danger of assault. To date, over three hundred of them have been killed by the local police and pro-Mubarak forces while demonstrating. Given that the odds are stacked against them, a chant or a song goes a long way in terms of boosting morale, and giving meaning to the risk each person assumes when going out to protest. It is one thing to shout a slogan, but it’s another thing entirely to hear hundreds if not thousands of your countrymen and women shout in unison with you. Two messages are sent: one of dissent against the government, and one of solidarity among the activists.

So what were they saying?

Since the coverage of the protests was superficial at best among media firms in the US, the responsibility to report on the events fell largely to bloggers and other internet sources. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil, of the University of California, Stanislaus, has been keeping a blog for a number of years regarding Middle Eastern issues, named aptly enough, angryarab.net. While Professor AbuKhalil intends for the name of his website to be taken in a tongue-in-cheek manner, he has made it a clearinghouse for news stories that the large media houses in the US would otherwise ignore, such as human rights issues among Southeast Asian immigrants in the Middle East. Since the revolts in Tunisia last month, followed by the Egyptian protests, he posted extensively on both the ongoing events as well as keeping logs of the various chants and slogans that the protesters are shouting, both in Arabic and English.

What these chants told us about the people gathered in Cairo is quite often at odds with the picture painted by the talking heads of cable news networks. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, among others, have expressed concern that the revolt in Egypt is part of a creeping Islamist movement to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate.

While this is certainly alarming, and therefore good for ratings, the actual protesters voiced no such desire. To the contrary, one of the many slogans shouted in Tahrir Square was “Alhlal wya alslyba, dhd alqtl waltathyba” or literally “The Crescent and the Cross against murder and torture!” Egypt has a significantly large Coptic Christian population that is equally as disenfranchised and abused by the government of Hosni Mubarak, and through this chant, we know that they have mobilized with their Muslim neighbors.

This chant also serves as a reminder of solidarity among the protesters, that they should set sectarian differences aside to work toward a common cause. Among the few photos and stories coming out of Tahrir Square over the past two weeks are accounts of Coptics locking arms to form a barricade around their Muslim neighbors while they are in prayer, and likewise, Egyptian Muslims shielding the Coptics while they have held religious services of their own.

The religious slogans were predominantly centered upon messages of cross-religion unity, but most of the chants that came out of the protests have been overwhelmingly secular in nature. “Alkramh walhryh m’tlba k’l almsrawyh!” (“Dignity and freedom is the demand of all Egyptians!”) proclaimed one slogan, while another demanded “Hosni Mubarak ya jbalh atla atla atla barh!” (Hosni Mubarak, here’s the clarification: get out, get out, get out, outside!”) Ultimately, nearly every single slogan boiled down to a rejection of the current ruling party, and a demand for their swift departure from Egypt. There were no calls to install a caliphate or a supreme soviet; only a unified cry for each voice to be heard.

Their voice, however, was not limited to the volume of their shouts. Throughout the course of the protests in Egypt, posters and banners have served as a written counterpoint to the chants of the crowd. While posters displayed in a crowd send clear messages, they can also confound attempts by state owned television to broadcast propaganda featuring shots of the crowd. In this case, it was difficult for Egyptian state television to claim that the majority of protesters in Tahrir Square were pro-Mubarak when the signs they held aloft clearly indicated otherwise. Some of the signs carried a simple “Mubarak Must Leave” message, while others carried the chanted slogans written out longhand. Some of the most creative signs appeared to pay homage to the social networks that allowed the revolution to reach critical mass. References to Twitter, Facebook, and other allusions to the internet displayed that revolution is a brilliant example of traditional methods of protest combined with modern tech savvy.

Signs also serve another purpose beyond simple message dissemination. While they often carried ultra-modern references, the use of signs in large crowds as spatial reference points is an ancient method of organizing and maintaining order. It can often be difficult for a protester to see beyond the heads and shoulders of his or her fellow demonstrators. In the chaos that surrounds an attack on an assembled group of demonstrators
by counter-revolutionary forces, a sign held high above the turmoil can serve as a beacon to mo
ve toward and rally around. When the pro-Mubarak forces assaulted the crowd on horseback, they were largely able to move out of harm’s way, and then quickly identify where friendly and hostile assemblies were located before moving to re-establish their picket lines. Their ability to resist dispersal let them maintain the momentum they needed more-or-less peacefully overcome the hostile forces stacked against them.

While it remains to be seen whether or not the protesters will be successful in restoring democracy to Egypt, one thing is for certain: their voices have been heard. Even with the internet shut off, and journalists barred from entering the Square, and the punditry of major media sources, the news of Egypt’s struggle and eventual triumph has escaped and is being sent across the planet for the world to watch and listen.

Finding an Escape at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum



These days it feels like Boston has transformed
into an arctic tundra, but one historical institution provides some relief from the winter doldrums.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood is hometo a spectacular indoor courtyard that blooms year-round, with horticulture installations changing six times a year to reflect seasonal flowers and greenery. The courtyard lies in the center of a four-story, 18th century building, designed to look like anancient Venetian palazzo.
While the courtyard is a stunning centerpiece complete with glass ceiling (the first built in Boston), gravel walkways, and trickling fountains, the museum is also home to a substantial and impressive art collection. Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo, Raphael, Sargent, Manet and Degas grace the walls, but not in the way you might be used to. That’s because the museum
s founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner, was anything but a typical collector.

Born in New York City on April 14th, 1840, to David Stewart, a wealthy merchant, and Adelia Smith, Gardner was educated in private schools in New York and Paris. While studying in Paris, she was introduced to Jack Lowell Gardner, the brother of her schoolmate and friend, Julia Gardner. The two eventually married and settled in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

After the death of their son from pneumonia at the age of two, a doctor suggested that the Gardner’s journey through Europe to raise their spirits. That trip marked the beginning of a love affair with art and travel that led the Gardners to make plans for a building to house some of the objects they had collected during their travels. Thus, the idea for Fenway Court was born.

Although the Gardners resided in the palace, in a much more modest apartment on the fourth floor, they intended for the first three levels to be open to the public as a museum. Gardner personally installed the collection, arranging objects, paintings and textiles in inventive and intricate displays. For this reason, the galleries evoke the feeling of someone’s personal home more so than a museum.

The Titian Room on the third floor is sumptuous, with red silk textile covering the walls, gilded 18th century Italian chairs, and a massive, sweeping painting entitled The Rape of Europa by the Italian artist Titian. A floor to ceiling window and small stone balcony open up to the indoor courtyard below. The museum’s lighting is kept dim to preserve the art and no cell
phone use is allowed. Aside from the sound of water trickling through the fountains, the galleries are almost silent.

A morning visit is the best way to view the collection, with natural light flooding the galleries and providing the best condition to view the works. On the third thursday of every month, however, the museum remains open until 8pm and the galleries take on an entirely different feel. With the natural light gone, the museum is are dim, the only light coming from torchieres and lanterns. If only for an evening, you can forget the snow covered, icy world outside and imagine yourself transported back to ancient Venice.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11am-5pm, every third Tursday from 11am-8pm. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for students with current I.D.. Children under 18 are admitted free with a parent or guardian.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Carnevale

by Donna Perezella

I don't eat meat. Which is ironic considering that tonight's Carnevale celebration is a farewell to meat (literally, as carne means "meat," and vale means "farewell" in Latin). In this devout Italian Catholic circle, also ironic as I am not a devout anything, Carnevale signals the start of Lent, where during its 40 day period, meat is intentionally absent from most Italian dinner tables, both in the US and in Italy.

But, I don't eat meat; meat is noticeably absent from my own dinner table 365 days a year. So why am I here at this last-chance-to-eat-meat-for-40-days celebration? I love a good party.

In an attempt to resemble our pre-winter 2010/2011 selves tonight, Mark and I decide to shed our cold weather layers; he dons a suit and tie, me a dress and high-heel boots. We almost don't recognize ourselves. I have no guilt about abandoning my faithful friends -- warm, woolen tights and snug, snow boots. But I do worry that my down coat may experience separation anxiety tonight; we have been inseparable since early December.

I am willing to take that risk, so we join some two hundred plus meat eaters at the 33rd Annual Carnevale Dinner & Dance for song, dance, food, and drink -- Italian style.


The American Legion hall in Newton has been transformed into a piece of Venice on the bank of the Charles River. We are met by a sea of black evening wear and sparkling jewels; some memorable hairdos and forgettable hair-don'ts. I spot our friends at table 33, and quickly settle in for the evening's festivities.

Our emcee, Signora Cimino, a delightful gal who reminds us all of our favorite nonna (grandmother), excites the crowd as she introduces Rhode Island's own Ambrosiani band, fresh off a plane from Rome, who will provide the evening's music. "Oohs" and "aahs" are exclaimed from this group, mainly Italian immigrants, upon hearing the mention of the band's recent trip to the old country.

This gala, like so many other events in Boston's large Italian community, is an attempt to keep a piece of the old country alive. There are many traditions that they carried with them when they left Italy, and tonight they successfully preserve another one of them.

The band begins to play an old folk song -- l'Italiano. I drag Mark out to the dance floor, attempting to blend into the crowd before his "two left feet" dance moves are exposed.


Back at our table, red wine is flowing as waiters begin to serve us family style. Plates of antipasti (appetizers) are being passed. Colorful platters are filled with sharp, pungent cheeses and wonderful vegetables -- vibrant red roasted peppers, pearly-white artichokes marinated in oil and vinegar, a painter's palette of olives -- green, black, and brown. Mounds of delicately-sliced prosciutto di Parma are piled onto individual plates; we pass on this glossy pink delicacy.

The band continues to play, a mix of the old and the new. The Italian national anthem, "Inno Nazionale," not only brings everyone to their feet, but also moves some to tears. Our Italian friend, Clelia, cries openly for the country she left as a teenager and that she still greatly misses; I think how hard it must be to leave the only country that you have ever known.

As we are soothed by beautiful Italian ballads, our waiters appear with platters of home-made pastas; a wonderful orecchiette (little ears) simply tossed with broccoli rabe and olive oil, and another swimming in an aromatic and flavorful tomato sauce. Crusty Italian bread is passed from person to person.

And then the course,that everyone (except me) has been eagerly awaiting, finally appears -- il carne (the meat). Plates of golden oven-roasted chicken and sauce-soaked braciola (rolled pork) are greeted by my table mates like long lost friends.

The evening's entertainment is about to begin. The dance floor clears. Glasses clank as "silenzio" is demanded. We turn our attention back to the dance floor where 18 men and women, in traditional Italian folkloric costumes, are waiting to perform.

This Italian folk dance group, "Ricordi d'Italia," entertains us with multi-regional Italian folk music and traditional dances. They take us on an exciting trip though the regions of Italy through their song and dance. I am particularly moved when they perform "Ballo dei Mattacchini," the traditional folk dance from the Molise region, where my own grandparents were born and left as adults, never to return.


A rousing applause is felt and heard during Ricordi d'Italia's rendition of the popular and age-old folkloric "Tarantella," which brings the night to an end. If you've ever been to an Italian wedding, chances are you, too, have experienced this Italian classic. And chances are you left humming it's tune.

Tonight it has that same feeling for me -- I call it the Tarantella effect. And I have a feeling that this group of transplanted Italians is feeling it, too!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It's still not too late to celebrate Carnevale in Boston!
Although on a lesser scale, Italia Unita Sponsors "Carnevale 2011"
When: Thursday, March 10th, 2011, 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Where: Spinelli’s Function Facility, 280 Bennington Street East Boston,MA.
$25.00 per person advance purchase, $30 night of the event.
To purchase tickets of for more information, call 617-561-3201 or visit their website at www.italiaunita.org

Saturday, March 12, 2011


The Havana Club

One of the best decisions I have ever made in my life was to take dance lessons.  I was outwardly against it for a long while due to my shyness and squeamishness.  I always had the feeling that dancing was just not for me, and that it was only for other, more outgoing people to do.  Inwardly, however, I always yearned to be different.

The first kink in my constraints came when I was in Ireland at a ceili (kaylee) dance with my friends from work.  There was some line dancing, which was easy enough to pick up, but there were many couple numbers as well.  My friends had no qualms whatsoever about going up to any girl and asking them to dance, while I contented myself to sitting those numbers out and feeling good about them enjoying themselves.

The next day, as we were heading home, I talked with Simon, the guy in our group that I knew the least, about how much I had enjoyed the ceili, and how I looked forward to going to another.  Then this guy, that hardly knew me—and, I believed, who wouldn’t have given much thought to my sitting on the sidelines so much during the dance—said something to me so simple and true that it has reverberated in my mind ever since.  He said, “Doug, it’s fun to be there and watch other people dance, but it’s so much more fun to be the one out there doing it.”

Seemed pretty self-evident: something that everyone would already know and not need to be told.  And I did know it.  But having it said to me, by this person, in his quiet, perceptive manner—it was like being hit by a soft thunderclap.  A Life’s Truth had just been spoken, and I still consider myself, even twenty years later, to have been lucky enough to hear it at that time, in that way.

And so, back in the present, after having struggled often with my shyness over the last two decades, I have found myself having mostly abandoned my shy ways in general—i.e., insofar as they restricted me from enjoying myself—and in dancing, in particular.  So, when I went out Saturday night to the Havana Club in Central Square, it would have seemed as if I’d come full circle from my Ireland days, and my contenting myself with just enjoying other people enjoying themselves.

It’s HOT in the club, which is not a surprise, and the two fans they have going do little to ameliorate that fact.  After paying and getting rid of my coat, I head off any potential qualms and ask the first available woman if she would like to dance.  (The Havana Club has a very relaxed atmosphere, with mostly single people attending, so asking any woman to dance will not have any adverse consequences.  There are salsa clubs, however, where one does have to sauce out a woman’s situation before asking them—lest you ask the wrong woman, and her significant other makes a point of letting you KNOW you asked the wrong woman.  A potentially un-fun business.) 

I tell her that I’m not very advanced and I hope that she’ll bear with me, and she just laughs and says the same.  We end up being about the same level skill-wise, and we quickly see how much we both enjoy dancing with each other.  We can talk a little too, and I find out that she’s from Turkey, which explains her beautiful, dark hair and eyes.  As we get more comfortable with each other, she starts to get more playful, coquettishly looking up at me from cuddle positions—and I make a note-to-self about just how good it is to be in my shoes at the moment.

We dance several numbers, but then she has to leave (sigh.)  I then start to circle the room with the other men, asking whomever to dance, and taking a break every once in a while to stand in front of the fans.  (I usually take my break when they put on a bachata.   The music is just a little too annoying, and I only dance to it when a woman asks me.)  I dance with about a dozen women, all of different levels, and enjoy every moment.  The atmosphere is very laid back, and the women rarely hesitate to accept a dance as there is little-to-no pressure from the men that it mean anything more than it is. 

After a couple of hours, my legs are a little tired, and so I head home, feeling a little sweaty, spent—and very content.


The Havana Club is located at 288 Green Street in Cambridge.  It is just steps from the Central Square T station and very affordable parking lots.  It is open on Friday and Saturday nights, from 9pm until 2am.  (The Friday Night Salsa party is 21+.)  There is a weekly beginner and intermediate class both nights, from 9pm to 10pm.  Cost is $12, and classes and coat check are included in the price.  No partner is required for dancing or for the classes.  Full bar available.                                                   

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Best Sledding on the South Shore

The Best Sledding on the South Shore
By Melissa Nardo
Are you sick of everyone complaining about the winter?  Do you wish you could go back to those childhood snow days of careening down a hill on your brand new sled?  Well, you can!  Here are four unique sledding experiences pointing the reader in the right direction of the hill of their dreams.  Are you a teenager or an adult with a need for speed?  Are you a parent looking for a safe place to take your children sledding?  All of this is covered and more.
The first stop is the South Shore Country Club in Hingham which has two parking areas.  The main parking lot is off of South Street, but parking here means a long walk to the popular hill.  The most popular hill is along a section of Old New Bridge Street.  However, there is no designated parking here; everyone lines their cars up along one side of the road.  Be careful because the Hingham police officers will ticket anyone parked on the opposite side of the road.  The plus side to parking on Old New Bridge Street is that the main sledding hill is right there.  South Shore Country Club is the place for people with a need for speed.  The main hill is wide with a fairly straight drop and most of the time there are several jumps built randomly on the hill.  There is a small section of trees off to the right that sledders need to be aware of, but other than that it is wide open. 
View from the main entrance of the South Shore Country Club

Anyone planning on venturing to the South Shore Country Club should know it is a sled at your own risk type of place.  This popular hill at South Shore Country Club is dangerous for anyone under the age of ten years old.  The hill is tremendously fast and often icy.  The sledder needs to be aware and capable of bailing themselves out of danger at the last second if needed.  This is the type of hill frequented by teenagers and adults who are serious sledders.  On an average Saturday all the hills are packed, especially the popular hill.  Sledders need to be aware of their surroundings at all times or risk getting run down.  The South Shore Country Club is also used by snowboarders and cross-country skiers.  Bottom line: be prepared to fight for a spot on the popular hill, but it is worth it.
Sign at the entrance to the popular hill at South Shore Country Club

Our next stop on the sledding tour of the South Shore is Stodder’s Neck located on route 3A on the Weymouth/Hingham line.  Stodder’s Neck has a decent sized parking lot and the walk to the hill is fairly short.  A sledder can get going rather fast on these varying hills.  The back side of Stodder’s Neck has a couple of levels, reminiscent of a wavy slide, while the front side is a mostly straight shot down.  The one and only obstacle of this destination are dogs.  Stodder’s Neck is a dog park and those four legged friends are constant moving obstacles.  However, if you cannot stand to be parted from your snow loving pooch then this is the perfect solution.  Here all ages are appropriate, but you must love dogs.  Frequented by families with dogs, this sledding site is available for all to enjoy.  During the week Stodder’s Neck is low-key, but on the weekends it is busy with dogs running loose and families sledding.
Oliver poses for a picture at the dog park
At the end of Burtons Lane in Hingham you will find Baker’s Hill; however, this destination requires four wheel drive.  Burtons Lane is a narrow dead end street and with all this snow it is even narrower.  I ended up parking my Jeep on a snow bank to avoid blocking anyone’s driveway.  At the very least visitors will have to park in the woods during winters with normal snowfall amounts.  Sledders will have to park at the dead end then endure an upwards walk through the woods.  No matter what kind of sled preferred, the sledder will find themselves soaring down Baker’s Hill.    All ages are welcome to attempt this hill, but young children will not enjoy the ride unless they are daredevils.  Baker’s Hill is best enjoyed by teenagers and adults.  Since this hill is hidden behind a neighborhood, most of the time the sledder will have Baker’s Hill all to themselves.
The last set of sledding hills are behind Tufts Library at 46 Broad Street in Weymouth.  The library has a big two level parking lot and there is also another parking lot off the side street.  The hills and playground are easily accessible from either of the parking lots.  The sledders have a couple of hills to choose from at this location.  One hill is small and perfect for children on their first sledding outing or those children who prefer a nice gentle sledding experience.  The second hill is wide open and fast enough to entertain the older children.  An added bonus is a nice new playground next to the hills if the children get bored with sledding.  The hills behind the Tufts Library are definitely for children.  One to three year olds frequent the little hill while elementary school aged children spend their time on the slightly bigger and faster hill.  Another added bonus, besides the playground, is that the hills of the Tufts Library are never too crowded.
Four year old Declan tests the hills of the Tufts Library
(Right) The Tufts Library Playground
Each of these unique sledding destinations has its own reasons for being popular.  The South Shore Country Club fulfills the need for speed, but keep in mind it is a sled at your own risk situation and not for the faint of heart.  Stodder’s Neck is the perfect spot for those who wish to include the beloved family dog on their outing.  Baker’s Hill is somewhat of a hassle to get to, but worth it if you want the privacy.  Last but not least, Tufts Library is a safe and fun environment for children and their parents.  All of these hills attract a certain crowd so have fun finding the right sledding spot for you and your family.