Measured Extravagance

2001-06-18 - 10:31 p.m.

I'm a lucky woman - even when things don't work out quite as planned, they have a way of going quite well nonetheless. At least, that's how I'm feeling about the past week - I haven't checked my voicemail since last Tuesday, so I may very well be singing a different tune tomorrow morning, but right now I've got a mug of ginger tea, a king-size package of m&m's, and the pleasant afterglow of an excellent sojourn in Boston.

Tuesday morning was so frantic at work that I actually breathed a huge sigh of relief as I settled into my seat on the plane. There were so many delays that I didn't arrive at my hotel room until 10:30 p.m. (for a flight that was supposed to have docked at Logan three hours earlier) but it helped that the other passengers (many of them also business travelers) opted to vent their exasperation through wry comments and good-natured wisecracks ("Aren't we in Halifax yet?") rather than getting pointlessly ugly. It also helped that I had absolutely nothing scheduled for Wednesday, other than connecting with my friend Kale and doing some homework for my Thursday meeting - I figured I'd sleep late and then prowl around town until Kale was free. In short, it didn't much matter to me whether the plane arrived at 7 p.m. or 10 p.m., as I'd packed plenty of reading material, and when I got to the inn the proprietor was kind enough to brew a mug of hot tea for me.

That said, this turned out to be the trip where I frequently missed the convenience of owning a good cell phone. I'd cancelled my old contract earlier this year because I wanted to find a new plan that didn't hammer me with roaming charges, and also because I wanted a more efficient model that didn't require recharging so often. I hadn't managed to choose a replacement phone before this trip, and the lack of a reliable day number meant that poor Phelps ended up fielding several calls from people back home, as well numerous rounds of pay phone roulette (it's amazing just how many of them don't work properly - especially when one's feet are aching!) as plans were proposed and revised. . .

In any case, Wednesday morning found me waking late, noshing on a bagel and orange juice at the inn, and then walking to Trident Books and purchasing several cards, The Haiku Year and Haiku for Jews. The former is a book I'd been meaning to get for several years (I asked for it at a Waldens once and the clerk had replied, "How do you spell haiku?"), and I'd heard excerpts from the latter on Car Talk over the weekend. (The bagel- and-chopsticks motif in the page corners is a cute touch.) It's also true that I'd spent part of the Tuesday night flight trying to focus on some of Richard Wilbur's prose pieces, so I was very much in the mood for reading matter of lighter density. (I also purchased a gift for Ter which I'll have to describe later, since he peeks in here from time to time.)

I then meandered my way along the Fens (belatedly realizing that the Fenway of Fenway Park actually means the way by the Fens...) and eventually found myself across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts. I considered going in, being there and all, but realized I wasn't quite in the right mood for folk art or their other current exhibitions, so I turned back towards downtown and headed into the Boston Public Library, where I finally reached Kale on the phone. After we confirmed our plans to meet that evening, I went upstairs and peered at the exhibitions on the third floor - there were two galleries of contemporary prints, a room of fantastic miniature dioramas (Moulin Rouge fans, there's one showing Toulouse-Lautrec sketching behind the curtains of a circus), an exhibit outlining the history of postcards, and a display devoted to illustrators and storytellers (it was interesting looking at different conceptions of Mother Goose, for instance).

Wandering back down Boylston street, I ended up sitting by the front window of Typhoon, a pan-Asian restaurant that served me a pot of tea, a neon-green midori margarita (curiosity got the best of me), and a plate of appetizers (crab rangooon, skewered sesame beef, chicken tempura and sweet bbq pork). Then I meandered down to the Institute for Contemporary Art and studied some of the portraits there - in particular, there's a Dutch photographer who's presenting two series there, one of assorted individuals in beachwear, and the other of new mothers wearing only their panties and holding their babies. At first glance, almost all of the subjects look rather drab - one wouldn't be giving any of them a second look if they weren't being presented as portraits. But, since they are, one does look. . .

After looking my fill, I moseyed back to the inn and lay down for a nap. Kale was sitting at the foot of "Art" at the BPL when I returned there to meet him at 7. He asked if I minded walking for a bit, since he'd been sitting at his desk all day. I replied that a walk would be lovely, so we turned our steps towards the river and wended our way down the Esplanade.

As we walked, we discussed where to go for dinner, which segued into meat preparation/consumption in New York and Argentina, and then we sat on a ledge overlooking the water and talked about his new job and his drawing classes, and I showed him one of the calligraphy postcards I'd purchased at Trident, to demonstrate what fascinated me about gestural illustration. As we turned back, we stopped by the head of Arthur Fielder, where I patted his already-burnished nose for luck (to supplement my preparations for my meeting), and then we crossed the bridge named after him as Kale described to me the masses that crowd the Esplanade for the Independence Day pops concert.

We settled on the Marché in the Prudential Center for sushi and crepes, and then walked over to Emanuel Church to hear a group called Fortune's Wheel perform medieval French chansons. I wasn't able to concentrate on the music as much as I would have liked, partly because I was trying to figure out if the soprano was someone I knew from Ann Arbor (she wasn't) and mostly because my digestive system wasn't handling dinner properly (the crepes did taste a little bit off, so I'm blaming them). When I wasn't being distracted by the knots in my gut, the music was splendid, so I could honestly tell Kale I enjoyed the performance - but it was also a crashing relief to get back to the hotel room and give in to being sick and swear at the godawful timing...

...which I continued to do, with increased vehemence, when I woke up the following morning and felt my intestines still trying to turn themselves inside out. I'd nevertheless gotten myself into my suit and was just about to haul myself and my roller-case downstairs when the phone rang. It was Phelps, and she sounded both apologetic and agonized. The original plan had been for me to take the bus up to Maine after the meeting, but her body was behaving so badly that she just wasn't up for driving or hosting. I told her that, much as I'd looked forward to chilling out chez Phelps, I had plenty of options and to get back to bed so that I could at least enjoy her company on Saturday.

After speed-contemplating my options, I called my client and told them I'd be an hour late because I wanted to give my dinner a little longer to stop disagreeing with me. I then stopped by the front desk and asked them if they could put me up for another two days. Mirabile, they had space in their new Annex, and for the same reasonable rate I was paying for my scheduled nights. Better yet, I could thus leave my luggage with them instead of schlepping it across town. Thus, feeling considerably lighter both mentally and physically (let me tell you, it's a bitch hauling luggage up and down assorted subway stairs), I called Phelps back to reassure her things would work out okay, made yet another trip to the bathroom (sigh), and then caught a cab on Massachusetts Avenue to take me to my client.

The meetings went quite well (thank you, Arthur), and concluded early enough for me to return to the Pru and obtain a ticket for the 4:30 p.m. Duck Tour. When that was done (and fun it was - the conDucktor was a retired cop whose props included a two-tiered carry-box of donuts, and who reminisced about his boyhood in Boston, including swimming in the Charles on the sly), I walked down to Gainsborough Street to confirm the location of Jordan Hall - and then to the nearest CVS, since the right lens of my glasses had decided to fall out again. (I think the threads in the right joint of my glasses have worn out - it's probably time for new frames.) Then I sat at Au Bon Pain for half an hour, hunched over my spectacles, fruitlessly trying to repair them with the kit I'd bought (none of the screws matched the joint), before buying my ticket for the 8 p.m. concert.

When an usher announced that the doors wouldn't open for another fifteen minutes, I went back outside, sat down on the sidewalk next to two women munching on their dinners, and took out my own sandwich. After eavesdropping on their conversation for five or ten minutes, I ventured to ask them if they worked for the Boston Early Music Festival. One of them replied, "How would you like to go to the opera on Saturday?"

Would I ever - I'd called for tickets Tuesday afternoon and had been told that the only seats left were $85 apiece. I told her as much, and she told me to introduce myself to "Bruce" at the BEMF Exhibition the following afternoon, in order to work a shift there and thus earn my ticket to the Saturday night performance. Chouette! I went inside feeling quite pleased at this turn of events, and the evening only got better - the concert began with music from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes, and ended with a full performance of La Guirlande, and oh, how gorgeous it was.

I was feeling almost drunk as I walked along Newbury Street after the concert - partly because Rameau makes me giddy, partly because the night was swelteringly hot, and partly from the effort of seeing out of only one eye. I stopped by a smoothie shop to rehydrate, and then continued on back to Emanuel Church for another 11 p.m. concert, this time by Ensemble Clement Janequin. (I have one of their CDs, so I was keen on attending this - Dominique Visse has an unusually penetrating countertenor voice.) Mmm mmm mmm - I especially liked Claudin de Sermisy's "Tant que vivray en eage florissant" ("As long as life in me doth flourish"). Ravishing. . .

[Continued in the next entry. . .]

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