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bear by san

March 2017



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hustle ash really

i'm ready to leave. i push the fact in front of me.

It occurred to me this morning that in all probably, the vast majority of people reading this have never been to Boston, or Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA) for that matter.

First things first.

Harvard Square isn't. It's a square in the London sense, which is to say a randomly-shaped starfish of a metastasized intersection that occurs where a number of secondary streets get caught in the gravity well of Massachusetts Avenue. There's a green, some statuary, a news stand, three exits from the Harvard Square Red Line T Station, and a bunch of gates into Harvard Yard, where you cannot park your car.

The architecture is chiefly brick--white and red--with the occasional more modern building. It's somehow both changed a lot and not at all since I set a story there. Today, I would probably mention Finale, Plan B., and Alpha Omega. (And Grendel's Den doesn't actually have neon, but we make sacrifices for art.)

I don't know Boston or Cambridge particularly well. I've visited a lot over the years, but I've never lived there, and I think it takes me about two years to get a sense of the soul of a place.

Businesses include the Harvard Bookstore (actually a bit up Mass Ave), a Lush and a Body Shoppe, Urban Outfitters, and Cardullo's Gourmet Shoppe (home of all tea and all chocolate). And pretty much one of everything else, or maybe four. Ten or eleven, in the case of caffeine delivery options.

You can navigate the entire area by dashing from tea stop to coffee emporium, and--as usual when I go to a city where I don't live--I spent a good part of the time I was there eating my way across it. This year, Finale (which sadly I think is sort of overrated), Tealuxe, Felipe's Taqueria (carnitas burrito win, OMG), Charlie's Kitchen for burgers and Hoegaarden, and brunch this afternoon at Veggie Planet. Not to mention the pilgrimages to the sacred Au Bon Pain. (If you don't have a With Good Pain in your town, imagine something sort of like a Starbucks with all the suck and much of the pretentiousness removed. They have real food, you can order a large latte without beeing sneered at, and the pain au chocolat is not the best I have had, but it is in the top three. Not too shabby for a chain.)

Hey, all that tromping around in the cold burns calories!

(my balm and solace)

Anyway, the Harvard Square ABP has a glassed-in greenhouse where you can sit and drink your warming beverage while looking out at the university--and in the way of things, that greenhouse is inhabited by a couple of smart, fat sparrows who are much snugger (and smugger) than the sparrows still stuck outside. Also, it may be January, but the Harvard Square squirrels are not exactly on hardship rations. I dubbed this one the Little Matchsquirrel for his tendency to sit up outside the glass staring inside. However, my attempts to get a photograph of the xtreme cuteness came to naught.

The area boasts a couple of flatiron buildings, a feature of the Northeast and its crookedy streets which always soothe my soul. (Detail of a window sign from that second one. Very famous law firm, don't you know?) Other local landmarks include the Cambridge Savings Bank sign.

And, as you may have noticed, a metric buttload of snow.


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Nice travel guide.

What is the conversion rate of the metric buttload to the imperial buttload?
1.1 imperial buttloads to the metric buttload.

a metric buttload of snow

Yeah. Pretty much. Blah, says this child of the desert. Blah.
Pretty town.

Although, I have to say, it looks much colder than mine, so I wouldn't like to trade. :P
It's approaching its quadricentennial, which makes it a very old town by Yankee standards and a very young town by yours. *g*
You speak truth. Au Bon Pain is a great goodness. They're one of the few things I miss about Syracuse.
that place is the heart of my heart. I grew up in the suburbs and do you remember how coffeeem described Hennepin Avenue in War for the Oaks? She could as easily have been describing Harvard Square.

I agree with you about Finale being somewhat overrated, but it's a hell of a lot of fun, especially if you go to share The Whole Nine Yards with someone. However, I'm just as happy sitting in the Octopus' Garden old bank vault at Herrell's with a much more affordable cup of ice cream.

If I spend too long without walking those streets, I start to pine and sicken of it. It's my native earth.
Hah! Last time I was up there, I bank vaulted. *g*



I have more fun eating in Cambridge than anywhere except Toronto and NYC.
Oh Grendel's Den. That's was my wife and I's first date!
Dark and Stormys! And enough vegetarian things to please my fussy best friend.
Insufferable French Teacher mode ON: "au" here is really more of an "at the sign of." (Like pubs.)

Homesick For Civilization mode ON: they have the best pains au chocolat I've had in this country, and their breakfast deal in France is OF THE WIN. *Huuuuuge* pains aux raisins and a big ol' hot beverage for fewer Euros than you'd think. Aw, now I'm all hungry. :-)
Okay. At the sign of the good pain. *g*

Come visit, and I will drive you to Boston and get you all the pains au chocolat you can eat.

Or perhaps just smuggle you some to a con. *g*
We used to get into Cambridge now and then when we lived out there (lived out in Hudson, I was working for DEC in Marlboro). The specific stores in the square sound like they've changed a lot. And I know Spike MacPhee's Science Fantasy Bookstore isn't still there (not since 1989). And no mention of the Harvard Coop? I'd have thought that was one of the more famous businesses in the square, and more useful (their book section was first-rate when I was there; probably a contributor to SFBS not making it).
I've never actually been inside the Coop. *g*
The next time you're in the area, try Burdick's for dessert instead of Finale. They don't have as many choices as Finale, but the ones they do have are lovely, as are their chocolates.
Come back in the summer, Bear, and we'll take you here and get you an iced hot chocolate, and we will see whether you naturally drink it in the successful way or in the way that I attempted on my first encounter, and which I do not recommend.
Oh, and second the recommendation of ABP. Haven't been ages, but there was one downtown here last I looked, and there was one in Downtown St. Paul when I worked over there back last millennium. And one over near the Hynes center fed the slide show crew a lot of days during Noreascon 3. Beef with Boursin!
Beef with boursin win!


I miss it there. I loved the 4 years that I lived in the area. Thank you though! :)
One of the best features of the Park Plaza as an Arisia venue was the Au Bon Pain that was on the same block. Sigh.

I'm sorry I didn't get to see you and haul you somewhere for food this weekend while you were around. (I was in gaming most of the time, and so only saw you briefly either on panels or in the audience during them. Alas. Are you coming back up for Boskone?)
I glimpsed you across a crowded audience once. *g*

No Boskone for me this year, though I plan to come up on Saturday probably and schmooze.
Ah, Harvard Square. It isn't what it was, but there's still a lot of good there. I'm very, very glad that the Harvard Book Store (where I worked when I was going to graduate school in the late 70's, btw) is still there. I'd heard that it was up for sale and was afraid it would get snapped up by someone not interested in books. Used to be, it was one of a dozen bookshops, new and used and all eccentric. Now? There's Curious George and the B&N Coop and Harvard Book Store and the HUP shop. Even the little travel bookstore next to Passim's is gone.


Also? While I don't mind cold or snow, I SO don't miss shoveling.
Globe Corner moved (they were closed for a while but have since reopened); they're now over near the corner of Mt. Auburn and JFK, where Skewers used to be.
My food place of choice in Harvard Square for many years (though I haven't made it there in at least 4 years, as they've been closed for their winter vacation break when I've been in town) is Bartley's, which is further down Mass Ave.

The atmosphere is somewhat chaotic (lots of small tables and if you're by yourself and it's busy, you'll end up sharing), but I adored the cherry lime rickeys, and their onion rings, and their sweet potato fries. And the menus are hilarious.

I also spent far more hours than I care to think of in that ABP (grew up in the Boston suburbs, spent two summers at Harvard doing language classes, and generally hanging out periodically all during college.) Always an excellent standby when I wanted a break at 10am, or when I was having choice issues and couldn't figure out what else to get.
I like Bartley's, but it's a little too crowded and insane for the quality of the burger (especially since I live close to the Wild Willie's in Watertown, so can get great burgers all the time). B Good impressed me a lot, though, this past weekend.
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