15 Years, 15 Places

As of today, I’ve lived in Boston for 15 years. In 2007, I published a photo essay to commemorate my 10th anniversary; for my 15th, here are 15 places in the Boston area past and present that have meant a lot to me.

1. The Coolidge Corner Theatre
My favorite movie theatre and, incidentally, my employer since 2004. The first film I ever saw there was Emir Kusturica’s UNDERGROUND on a rainy November Saturday night. Since then, on the giant screen I’ve seen everything  from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in 70mm to THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS accompanied live by the Alloy Orchestra.

2. The Brattle Theatre
My other favorite theatre in the vicinity, of which my first visit to was for a packed screening of LA DOLCE VITA (also my first Fellini film). Five years later, I began volunteering in their offices one evening a week, which lead to my involvement with Chlotrudis and eventually, securing a job at the Coolidge.

3. Minuteman Bikeway
Since I live across town now, I haven’t biked this 11-mile trail (which runs from Somerville to Bedford) in years. When I lived in Cambridge and Watertown, however, I frequented it monthly (sometimes weekly). My favorite part remains the serene, rolling Great Meadows, which sit just west of the Lexington/Arlington border.

4. Diesel Cafe
I lived a ten-minute walk away from this Davis Square institution when it opened in June 1999. I feared for its life once a Starbucks popped up across the street six months later, but it survived, thrived and eventually expanded. I still stop by whenever I’m in the neighborhood (which isn’t often), but I have to admit I’m starting to feel a little old compared to its ever youthful clientele.

5. Brown Sugar Cafe on Jersey Street
For years, this little Fenway haunt was not only my favorite Thai restaurant in the city but my favorite restaurant, period. The food was always great, but the cozy, intimate atmosphere was something else. I usually ordered the mango curry, Thai iced tea and a fried ice cream for dessert. The space is now home to another Thai establishment, but I’ve kept my distance due to reports that the food just isn’t the same; also, the new place has an awful name.

6. Jamaica Pond
I’d been here for about a year when I first biked down the Emerald Necklace and came across Jamaica Pond, rubbing my eyes in disbelief that Boston contained something this beautiful and big and picturesque, like the sprawling Milwaukee County Parks I grew up with, only better. I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of this place for nearly six years, and I still visit it when I occasionally decide to get a little exercise and take the long way to work.

7. Manray
I have bittersweet memories of this Central Square club, for I met my first real boyfriend there in ’99 but also nearly had my heart broken by him there three years later. It’s astonishing to me that I danced there nearly every Saturday night of my mid-20s. I didn’t attend the club’s closing in July 2005, but I’ll bet the last song they played was Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”, as they always did on a Saturday night.

8. Videosmith on Comm Ave. in Allston
Hard to fathom in a Netflix/YouTube world, but the video rental store used to be where you had to go to get access to anything that wasn’t currently playing on cable TV or at a movie theatre. Poor student without cable that I was, in ’97 I dutifully walked the five blocks from my first apartment in Allston to the Videosmith on Comm Ave. every Tuesday night to take advantage of their weekly 2-for-1 special and cart home at least four bulky VHS tapes to watch on my 19” TV over the next seven days.

9. Record Hog
I miss video rental stores, but not as much as used record stores. I know they still exist, but they’re few and far between compared to what we had a decade ago. My favorite was always this little outpost on the corner of Beacon and Oxford near Porter Square where a cat often sprawled itself on top of the CD racks. My best finds there were often promos and review copies, possibly hastily sold back by a starving music critic. It closed in 2003 and I felt a certain schadenfreude when the bodega that replaced it closed a few years later.

10. Bryn Mawr Book Store
Boston has no shortage of used book stores, but my favorite remains this one on Huron Ave. in West Cambridge. Owned by Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, all proceeds go towards scholarships for the institution’s students. Thus, the prices are cheap, cheap, cheap and because it’s isolated and under the radar, I’ve found a lot of great stuff there: on my last visit in July, I acquired a paperback copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, which as far as I know wasn’t supposed to be out in paperback until September.

11. Hall’s Pond Sanctuary
Another hidden gem, this Brookline oasis (although isn’t most of leafy, green Brookline an oasis?) is steps off Beacon Street, but you’d never know it unless you walked down the curious, residential-like path that leads from the main thoroughfare to a gated (but thankfully not locked) space framed by glorious weeping willows and filled with pathways, waterfowl and a sizable pond that glistens no matter how muddy (or in this photo’s case, frozen) it may appear.

12. Deli Haus
Because it was a crowded, ugly pit, I don’t miss the old Kenmore Square much, with the exception of this grungy, subterranean diner which had barely seen any renovations since the 1960s and closed for good a decade ago after a botched attempt to remake it into a brewpub. Tattooed wait staff full of ‘tude, overstuffed deli sandwiches to die for, deliriously greasy German-fried potatoes (similar to home fries), monstrous brownie sundaes—all of it made Deli Haus a hole-in-the-wall Valhalla, and it was open late, too.

13. Christina’s Ice Cream
In general, Boston’s ice cream parlors are too pricy, too frou-frou and, until recently, seriously lacking for the frozen custard I adored in my youth. I (just barely) prefer this Inman Square joint to other local stalwarts JP Licks and Toscanini’s for its exotic flavors and unpretentious presentation. Sure, you can now get Fresh Mint ice cream at the other places I mentioned, but how about Fresh Rose or my all-time Christina’s fave, Banana Cinnamon?

14. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard
The Gardner remains my favorite Boston area museum. Not as adventurous as the ICA nor as extensive as the MFA nor as unique as the Peabody Essex, it has that amazing, breathtaking courtyard, one of the loveliest, most aesthetically pleasing spaces I’ve ever seen. If allowed, I could spend hours sitting on one of the ledges overlooking it—the colors, the composition, the natural light—and soak it all in and feel inspired to create something with a fraction of its beauty.

15. Four benches at the Charles River Esplanade
There’s a single place on the Charles River Esplanade that I always gravitate towards. West of the Hatch Shell, before the Fairfield Street Bridge, it consists of four benches flanked by tall trees overlooking the river. Perhaps it’s the shade from the trees or the view of the Longfellow Bridge, but it never fails to improve my disposition whenever I sit there for a spell, reading a book, writing in my journal or just staring straight ahead, reminding myself why I love Boston and why, after 15 years, I still have no desire to live anywhere else.

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2 Responses to 15 Years, 15 Places

  1. Angie Cason says:

    I’m the media coordinator at the Robinson Film Center in Shreveport Louisiana. We are about to launch a marquee campaign to hopefully fund something similar to the Coolidge (we LOVE it). We’ve received photos to use from CC, but nothing quite as nice as your night shot on this post. We would love your permission to use this photo (we will credit).

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