Friday, October 29, 2010

Romancing the End, or Thank Heavens She'll Talk About Something Else Soon

No trip would be complete without someone to share it with. Celebrating fifteen of anything is special. Celebrating it with your best friend, even better.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday: Notorious Time Travelers Caught in Photos

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Romancing Lighthouses, or If Fabio Were With Me, It'd Be No Problem Getting In

I'm literally writing a lighthouse scene as you're reading this. Okay, I'm writing this, but this morning, I was writing that. For me, lighthouses in New England weren't just a great photo, but all-essential to getting this scene right.

By day seven, I was anxious. I'd seen this one (I swear it's there if you zoom in)

and this oneand this one but couldn't go inside any of them. Was there some sort of secret handshake to access? Did I have to calibrate my visit to the precise twenty minutes of the month when a caretaker returned to make sure it hadn't collapsed into the Atlantic? Was my only lighthouse thrill this trip to be the mysterious stranger captured in this ill-angled photograph?

Zoom if you must, ladies, but he was a refugee from a nearby tour bus. Where are the semi-naked lighthouse keepers?

By the way, feather girl here would have had to be in a coma to have endured the icy spray of the Atlantic and felt nothing but the lightkeeper's rapture. My toes could barely stand it.

So there was no keeper, no peek inside, not even any rapture, really. I suppose it was for the best. The best tours are of the mind. They are perfectly crafted, unsoiled by reality and always accessible.
Tomorrow: Romancing The End, or Thank Heavens She'll Talk About Something Else Soon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Romancing Plymouth: How the Mayflower Compact Did Not Negotiate Restrooms in the Promised Land

I was warned that Plymouth, heretofore referred to as the Land of the One-Finger Salute, was tourist-y, but who can resist stepping aboard a not-the-Mayflower-not-even-close reproduction of this maiden voyage in our nation's history? Apparently, not the geriatric tour bus lines.

At the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, I had stood my ground against these most formidable opponents in camel-colored housecoats and waterproof babushkas. I claimed victory over the two-stall woman's restroom line long before I began popping Metamucil and discussing gout with perfect strangers. Bladder be damned!

But the perfect storm brewed over Land of the One-Finger Salute Harbor: Five Coach-Line Buses, T-shirt shops with signs lauding "No Public Restroom," the witching hour of post-lunch bladder capacity. Our forefathers could not have predicted the injustice of women outnumbering men eighty to one. Did men not give a hang about the Mayflower? Was there a poker tourney with free lager on one of the private yachts out to Provincetown? Oh, wait. Here's one.

Were these sparse loos meant to evoke the true trans-Atlantic experience? If so, then ballyhoo! If it was merely an oversight by The Mayflower Society, then I urge you to take but a pittance from my admission fee for a restroom attendant with a bullhorn directing traffic. "Bwoop! Bwoop! Time's Up, Bea Arthur!" "Step Away From the Mirror, Ma'am. The Mayflower smelled more like what you left behind than the fru juice you're spritzing on now. We're going for authentic here, people!"

Alas, relief was finally mine. Freedom from the tyranny of pre-paid tour lines. Freedom from the stench of a thousand modern-day Pilgrims hoarding toilet paper. Freedom from the woman on the pier below grousing into her cell phone about how steep the plank was. This isn't a Celebrity Fun Ship and there's no Canasta on the poop deck.

Though I'd have given anything to find out how to catch that party yacht.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Romancing the Hawthorne Hotel, or That Was Not a Cat!

Mayhap, Vortexers grow weary of New England tales. Too bad for thee. We have far more oysters to fry.

The Hawthorne Hotel was not my first choice for accommodations when planning a trip to Salem, even though it had been on my radar since the Ghost Hunters episode that featured it, but the planned B&B did not work out. Sure, my bathroom rug at home was larger than the entire room and the shower was half the size of an airplane lavatory, but I would not have traded the experience for the world.

Around three am, I stumbled to the restroom (far, far too much beer) which was simply a hop from the bed's foot. Upon settling back under the covers, as tucked as Kate Gosslin after free surgery, I felt pressure on my feet. Like Gary Coleman had sat on them. Not a tremendous weight, but enough that it drug me out of my quasi-alert state. Gary didn't stay for long, just a quick pause. After a scientific assessment of the room that Jason and Grant would have been proud of (and no, the air wasn't blowing on my feet as they'd determined in the eppy), I settled back under the covers and waited. To be honest, I'm not the most skeptical person you've ever met regarding the paranormal, and I do fully understand the power of suggestion, but damned if Gary Coleman returned and brought his cat and an aluminum baseball bat with him.

And this cat would not do a donut and settle. For almost ten minutes, little pressure points disregarded my feet's willingness to drift back to sleep. Then Gary joined us and laid a heavy aluminum bat alongside my leg. This was no air current, Mr. Ghost Hunter. This was an entirely different kind of stroke.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Lest you think I'm nuts and there is no self-respecting ghost who would want to rub the putrid feet of weary travelers, I invite you to visit the Hawthorne yourself. Room 323. Just don't drop the soap. Really. You won't be able to bend over and pick it up.

Tomorrow: Romancing Plymouth: How the Mayflower Compact Left No Room for Negotiating Restrooms in the Promised Land

Monday, October 25, 2010

Romancing the Post-Consumer Recycled Paper Drink Cup

I can sum up the number of times I've posted a recipe here at the Vortex with no hands. As in never have I ever. But this one has to do with my continuing love affair with New England, so hang in there.

While in Salem, I had red velvet hot chocolate (I know!) at Jaho Coffee & Tea on Derby Street. Not only could I have written an entire novel in its atmosphere, but that cup was truly the flavor of my love affair with Salem. The perfect strolling partner on the one mile jaunt out to the Salem Harbor lighthouse. The most memorable cup of hot chocolate. Evah.

When I returned home, I found recipes for red velvet hot chocolate that encouraged me to add red food coloring to my mix. Really? Red velvet is SO much more than just its color. It took me some time, but I toiled and crafted in my kitchen until I had triumphed over this most delicious concoction. I hope it is Fall-like where you are this week and you consider trying it. Here, the butt-sweat level is still much too high for hot drinks. New England, I miss you!

Red Vortex Hot Chocolate
(you didn't think the first recipe here would go without Vortex did you?)

2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
2 tbsp. red velvet cake mix
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Dash of salt

Mix sugar, cocoa, cake mix and salt in a large Fabio mug. Heat milk in the microwave until hot. Add milk to powder mixture. Add vanilla. Top with whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Romancing Hawthorne, or How to Gag Your Non-Writer Companion on All Things Writerly

I had a plan in Salem, Massachusetts. All history, no freak shows. I suppose the "most visited museum in Salem" might have been good for a laugh; and I'm truly happy for the people of this once-dying farming town that they can, albeit unfortunately, now carve a living from tourists seeking that kind of experience. But I found myself strolling past everything that had anything to do with witches or Wiccan gifts or dudes dressed like wizards (and trust me, someone opened the Harry Potter flood gates on this little town). I'd found my history in all things Hawthorne.

Hawthorne has been on our radars since school, right? He's the most-read author in high school curriculums. I knew he'd changed the spelling of his surname to disassociate himself from his grandfather, Judge John Hathorne, who presided over the Salem Witch Trials and is buried along with most of his family in the Burying Point Cemetery in Salem. I knew his contempt with the town resonated in the themes of his writing, but beyond that and a few lesser-known stories I'd read in a college lit class, I didn't really know much about Nathaniel Hawthorne at all.

Just down the road from the now-infamous Bunghole Liquors, is the House of Seven Gables. The people preserving history and literature here do an amazing job. From the engaging tour guides who make climbing the secret staircase the best treat since that tree house when you were ten, to the gift shop that sells an amazing collection of writing craft books alongside classics from famous authors all over this historically-fertile region, the biggest draw has to be the view of Salem Harbor from the waters. Who wouldn't get inspired here?

The romancing part came when I stumbled upon tiny little pieces of him that resonated far beyond the writer-reader relationship: examples of early drafts, scratched through as many times as my own; how a particularly harsh rejection caused him to burn his manuscript; how he made his mother and sister swear to tell no one of his dream to be published and endured the gossip of the townspeople who all thought he should do something instead of wasting away in the house all day and taking isolated strolls along the harbor at dark; the purple sofa where he wrote his most famous work, The Scarlet Letter. Sure, mine isn't nearly as grand, but neither of us feel a desk is where the magic happens. From the moment I knew him as only another writer can, he seemed to follow me all around New England:
Bowdoin College, the house he lived in and raised his children in Concord (left), his grave at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. And now, on my keychain: "Easy Reading is Damned Hard Writing."

I skipped Walden Pond. Even writers tire of other writers after a time. I'd had my fill, and there were other less-weighty ways to spend an afternoon in Boston. Ben and Jerry's anyone?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Romancing the Inns, or How Bedbug Inspection Kills the Mood

Maybe it was the NPR segment I listened to in New Hampshire detailing a poor woman's year-long struggle with bedbugs. How she would squeeze them and blood would erupt from their little bodies. How she isolated them in a glass jar for months and still they survived. How she would lie awake in the dark and feel sensations on her skin and knew they were eating her.

Maybe it's because I'm female and females tend to worry about these "details" more than men. My first year teaching, I had long hair and lice. Twice. Enough said, right? No amount of this,

or this,

would be worth it if I picked up a few of these.

So, armed with my trusty Eveready flashlight, I would Nancy Drew it through my accomodations before any item of anything vacated the rental car. And not just the mattress and box springs. We're talking full-on combat mode on computer chairs, sofas, drapes, carpets. So where, you might ask, was the romance of rushing the window to feast my eyes upon breathtaking views of the rugged Atlantic coast or the splendor of the leaves I managed to nail at peak-change? Where was the romance of taking in antiques from an 18th century attic room and feeling, for that first moment, like I've stepped back in time?

Sadly, I suppose, that romance came upon clean inspection. Oh, Holiday Inn Express room 323, how I love thee bleach-white sheets and the fact that you've only just opened a few weeks ago. I will pledge my undying devotion if you tell me you've slept with only me thus far.

I'm not really a TripAdvisor kind of ranter, but one place passed muster only to have me stressed out the entire night. Not sure I slept at all. It simply seemed as though it would have bedbugs. I watched Joaquin Phoenix's Two Lovers twice that night. I found myself wishing I was in Brooklyn only to realize Brooklyn has bedbugs, too. My email inbox begged the question: Would you recommend this hotel? Hell to the no. And beyond.

I did eventually capture romance in my New England accomodations: my happily-ever-after ending when I returned home without any unwanted travelers.

Tomorrow: Romancing Hawthorne, or How to Gag Your Non-Writer Companion on All Things Writerly

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Romancing the Yankee Accent: The Language of Seduction

How is it possible that a mere one-word utterance from a cash-lane toll booth operator can make me want to do the Snoopy dance? New England accents are like a strange note from a foreign instrument you want to hear again and again because it just doesn't seem possible. Is it like an Australian accent that vanishes in song? How does upper-sinus congestion affect its tone? How grand its power to penetrate a Bose-caliber noise canceling headset and eighty decibel jet engine noise!

My trusty New England tourist book neglected to mention that Cape Cod rolls up its sidewalks at eight. Trying to find dinner at 9 was no less a feat than erecting the Pilgrim Monument itself. The only flashing neon promised fatty bar fare and an Oktoberfest on draft. Heaven, right? So I bellied up to the dark Mahogany bar, planted a sweet smile on the blond behind the bar, and dropped the Y-bomb. Completely by accident, a casualty of being in the South too long. One might have thought I'd stood on the brass rail and shouted "Yankee's Rule!" for all the stares that ensued. A grizzly guy at the last stool gave me directions to a Chinese restaurant that stayed open until ten. Thank you, sir. You might as well have been speaking Cantonese for all I picked up in that seductive Yankee accent, but it was big of you to aid a woman in digestion distress. I might have pulled up the stool next to you and had beer for dinner had you not scared me so.

Dinner that night was hot fudge sundae at an adorable ice cream stop down the road. That's really how life should be lived, right? Dessert first.

My next kick-ass heroine will hail from New England. With gritty chops and no-nonsense delivery, she could bring the worthiest foe to his knees. As for the language of seduction? My heroes are always the strong, silent type, anyway.

Tomorrow: Romancing the Inns, or How Bedbug Inspection Kills the Mood

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Romancing New England's Roads, Or There's No G,P or S in Romance

I wish Garmin gave me options. Why can't my GPS voice seduce me into keeping right or entering roundabouts? Make it a man with a slight accent, like a spy or a butter spokesman, so it feels like an intimate encounter each time he leads me astray. Then I'd be less likely to curse him when he drags me under Boston Harbor and abandons me like a mangy stray or has me making donuts in Providence that would put the fifteen million Dunkin Donut franchises in New England to shame.

He might offer more than "arriving at destination" when I passed the TAPS office in Warwick, Rhode Island, enough times to be categorized as a crazy-stalker fan. He might have said, "Look, over there. The suburbans block it, but it is there. Do you trust me?" He might have praised my ability to parallel park in Boston instead of insisting where I'd gone wrong. He might have understood my complete and total devotion to him at the exemption of all other navigation tools and how a belly full of lobster and butter sedated my most basic situational awareness. The nowhere, Maine streets had no lights, but it wouldn't matter. He would be the Columbus to my Pollyanna in a plastic bib.

He might have pulled me aside and explained to me what the hell a roundabout was and why Plymouth drivers are so quick to shoot the native bird. Was it the New York plates? Did the whole Yankees/Red Sox thing extend to the region's very infrastructure? I'm sure our Pilgrim ancestors would have swelled with pride as I, a mere refugee from the genteel South, showed my bird prowess as well.

Instead, Garmin gives me a pushy pitchwoman with a "recalculating" stutter. There would be more romance in Fantasia's voice, but together we conquered four states in nine days and she did work through the adversity of ancient rock, a NPR show on bedbugs, and Hootie-no-more-a-blowfish, ad nauseum.

Tomorrow: Romancing the Yankee Accent: The Language of Seduction

Monday, October 18, 2010

Romancing Public Transportation, or There's No T in Romance

The "T" in Boston is part rail car, part subway and wholly an experience for someone who has not relied on public transportation since I was knee-deep in snow at the high school bus stop thinking, "Oh, no, you did-ent" as my dad drove by trying everything he could to embarrass me. The T is like that, without the love. Or the deodorant.

Mother Nature ordered up a tepid bowl of crazy-downpour my Boston day. I swiped at the condensation gathering on the windows of the rail car and drew vague stares. I suppose if I'd spelled out "tourist" in the fog, it would have been no less obvious, but I did want to see Boston. On the college line, the other passengers were soldiers of rain (whatevah) and how-will-I-ever-repay-my-loan seriousness. I traveled ten stops before I realized I was a stowaway. On the Dart bus in Dallas if you don't pay, you might be spot-checked and asked to leave. On the T if you don't pay, the driver crushes you with bi-fold doors. Good thing Samuel Adams is there to numb the pain and embarrassment.

Free Boston Lager samples at 10 am and the ZZ-Top-ish guy from the commercials? Yes, there is love in Boston, though not for poor Sam Adams. You see, Mr. Adams was just not enough of a hottie for the beer company's logo, so they tapped into Paul Revere's likeness. He was to early twentieth century beer as Fabio was to the non-butter industry.

After a drenching day of Freedom Trails, dark pubs and creepy strolls, I was starting to feel the romance. I was no longer a stowaway to Boston life, but a ticket-carrying commuter who'd mastered the art of seriousness. I no longer met other's eyes or held doors for strangers or smiled at someone for no reason. I was certifiably Bostonian on my last commute out of the city's heart. I had internalized the city, felt its weight and movement on my bosom. I had surmized that the T's "request stop" button was not in fact in the crotch of every male in Boston as I had once believed, but perhaps merely an indication of cotton-blend shrinkage. But Boston had one more lesson for me.

On the green line, near Boston University, the vessel as packed as a telephone booth in a 1950's diner contest, I came to understand the true meaning of "beantown."

And I wept.

The romance was gone.
Tomorrow: Romancing New England's Roads, Or There's No G, P, or S in Romance

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Romancing New England

I could begin with a quote, as writers often do:

"New England is quite as large a lump of earth as my heart can really take in."
~Nathaniel Hawthorne


I could write a poem, but I might struggle with finding a word to rhyme with bunghole, as in Bunghole Liquors in Salem, Massachusetts:

Zoom it, Vortexers. It's there. And here. Nothing captures Autumn in New England like koozies that read "Planet Bung Next to Uranus", right?

But mostly, I could just give it the Vortex 10 treatment. This is no moth-ball smelling, photo album-snoozing regurgitation down recent-memory lane. This is Romancing New England, Vortex-style.

Each day for ten days I'll dish out a tiny, meaty portion of my quest to capture that elusive, famed, romantic state-of-mind that eclipses New England this time of year. Did I find it in the portrait of Barbara Bush on river rock? Or in the Mary Poppins-holding-umbrella flight through a downtown Boston alley? Or in the quiet moment of fail when I realized my continental breakfast had to be eaten outside in 40 degree post-dawn Maine? The Vortex 10 list will swell as steady as my stomach on chowdah and lobstah, so pull up a feed and check back often. Maybe you'll find New England, like I did, somewhere between a Hawthorne and a bunghole.

Seriously, what rhymes with hole? Filet of Sole? Hairy mole? Yeasty roll?

Tomorrow: Romancing Public Transportation, or There is No T in Romance

Friday, October 1, 2010

Time Waits for No Hottie (and Other Ponderables)

Really? It's been that long? Huh. Wow, do we have some catching up to do...

Last month, Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design hit bookshelves. A follow-up to his 1998 release entitled A Brief History of Time, his latest embraces new theories about the creation of the universe. In A Brief History of Time, he wrote, "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason--for then we should know the mind of God." In somewhat of a reversal, his newest work indicates, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." Many believe he is simply clearing up the nebulous entity he skirts around in his other works in favor of a more direct approach to what he's believed all along. Truly, does this surprise anyone? Makes for splashy headlines, though.

In other shocking?-not-so-much novel news, Louise Patten, writer and granddaughter of Charles Lightoller, the senior-most officer to have survived the Titanic tragedy, has revealed in an interview that coincides with the release of her new fiction novel, Good as Gold, that a steering error was to blame. According to Patten, her grandfather failed to disclose the error during inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic for fear it would mean financial ruin for the ship's owners and his fellow employees with the parent company, The White Star Line. Patten's version of the disaster plays an important role in the story of an ugly duckling conformist who uncovers secrets behind her family's bank and attempts to right the wrongs of her family's past.

Robert Zemeckis, the movie director who brought us Romancing the Stone and the Back to the Future franchise to name a few, is returning to the time travel genre in Timeless. Warner Brothers is keeping the log line under wraps for now. And speaking of Back to the Future, Christopher "Doc Brown" Lloyd has signed on to play a time traveling scientist in a 3D Imax documentary called Time: The Fourth Dimension.

Oh, and remember the Most Attractive Male Physicist's Vote we stumbled across last week? We now have pictures! And voting bubbles. Two days left to cast your vote. Democracy is such a beautiful thing.

The next two weeks I'll be traveling all over New England in search of moderate temperatures, non-cow scenery and history far beyond "Remember the Alamo!" I promise to return with tales of adventure and vacay pictures, ad nauseum, as they relate to all things Vortex.

Be well until then.