Monday, December 24, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation - Parte Deux

OK, October isn't summer, but it felt that way for the most part in Boston, and most definitely in New Orleans. Steve and I had been anxious to return - both yearning for what we missed, and worried that it would no longer be there. We took a long weekend at the beginning of October to explore.

Our last long weekend trip was in May 2004. We did our usual stuff - gulping freshly shucked oysters at Felix's bar on Bourbon Street, with Abitas to wash them down; indulging in a shared muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery; staying out too late in the Quarter and sleeping too late in the morning. That trip was also fun for our try-out of the St. Charles streetcar and wandering past Commander's Palace, an old cemetery, and hanging out in a cool neighborhood most of the day.

This post-Katrina trip was a relief in that the Quarter and the central Business District and Warehouse District are still there and largely intact. A casual tourist would never know that there had been the kind of suffering and horror that happened only 2 years ago. But even the big tourist businesses are feeling the pinch of the conventions that are failing to materialize due to the caprice of the meeting planners who make decisions 5+ years out. The taxi drivers and hotel staffs are certainly feeling it.

This city is not for everyone. It is, first of all, a big city. It's got crime, grit, dirt, smells, hucksters, pickpockets, garish strip clubs and tourist-traps galore. However, it also has the Mississippi River, 400+ years of history, a lush climate, unique culture and blending of cultures, amazing music and best of all, fabulous, undeniably wonderful food. This trip let us indulge in some great eats including the aforementioned oysters (eaten standing, at the bar -- there is no other reason you should be in Felix's if you don't want to be disappointed) and muffuletta sandwich. The Bloody Marys are damn good as well. I also indulged in a 2-hour walking tour of the Quarter that was simply marvelous and taught me things I'd never known over a decade of visits.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Part 1

No better time to dream of summer than when your driveway is full of slush and your shoulder blades feel the curse of the shovel. While not exactly a "vacation," my adventures in the city with Boston By Foot this summer gave me much joy.

I became a docent this spring after taking a six-Saturday course and passing a written exam. Oh yeah, and going on a bunch of tours. In an "Enchanted" version of summer in Boston, nearly every tour I gave or attended was on a gorgeous, warm, sunny day. Of course, one of the very first I volunteered to shadow simply didn't happen because no one with kids was foolhardy enough to wade through Boston By Little Feet in rain that had me looking for animals boarding a Duck Tour in pairs; and a beautiful, crisp fall day in early September was met with shivers by a family unprepared for the drop in temps from the previous day's 80+ experience.
I really enjoyed giving the Heart of the Freedom Trail and Little Feet tours - essentially the same buildings with a different style of interpretation/focus for the different audiences. Going inside of King's Chapel was one of my learning experiences. I owe my fellow docents such gratitude for teaching me not only the facts, but their favorite stories and ways to capture the imaginations of both children and adults. I received high praise on one of my last HFT tours this season, with a group of German high school students. The teacher with my group turned to me after I delivered my most animated portrayal of the Boston Tea Party, saying that every German schoolchild learns about this event, but these students are privileged to hear this story from you! You brought it to life! In turn, I was humbled by the notion that German schoolchildren learn anything at all about Boston (for contrast, how much were we taught about any German city other than maybe Berlin post-WWII?).

I also loved being "support" for some of the special tours this year: "Footloose on the Freedom Trail" on the 4th of July, "Bells, Bridges and Locks" during HarborFest in July, "Big Foot - Back Bay" on Labor Day, and "Beacon Hill with a Boo" on Halloween night (yes, it was warm, and we had sunlight until after 6 p.m.!). Perhaps my most daring adventure was showing up in Dock Square (you know, in front of Faneuil Hall) dressed as a pirate a la Jack Sparrow to sell Captain Kidd Treasure Hunt kits to HarborFest celebrators. The reaction I got from tourists ranged from "avoid eye contact and maybe she won't drool on you" to outright Ahoy Thar's and Arrrrrr's. On my way back to the public restrooms to change back into Clark Kent, a gigantic man, a vendor at a Harley-Davidson pushcart (that's authentic Faneuil Hall for you) looked down as I passed by and said "Yer a little buccaneer, ahn't you?" I just gave him my nicest "Aye" and disappeared quick.