History of Fort Hill, Part 2 (2008). Mural by: Loray McDuffie, Taylor Saintable, Edwin Perez-Clancy, Christine O'Connell, Julia Andreasson, Jorge Benitez, Divah Payne, Lucy Saintcyr, Laua Dedonato, Gregg Bernstein.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charles River Alley Cats save the day

Three rescued kittens
Working with a clueless, but willing, helper, Charles River Alley Cats have saved four strays from a harsh winter.  (Skip to the bottom of this post to see how you can help save the day for other Fort Hill strays.)

To make explicit what was hinted at in previous posts, in early October, using tuna fish, we successfully enticed three kittens into the house and closed the door behind them.  Then using the kittens themselves as bait, augmented by more tuna, we were able to lure the Mother Cat into the house and close the door.

We had never really experienced the expression Climbing the walls until we saw Mother Cat levitate from floor to ceiling, seemingly counter to the laws of physics, in a wild attempt to escape.  The raw animal power was humbling to witness.

Mother Cat is a Classic Hallowe'en Cat.  What's not to love?

The trapping of these four mammals was assisted by much telephone counseling from a friend in Dorchester who manages a small feral colony and has many years experience.  We are mostly dog people, so dealing with cats for us is like negotiating with extra-terrestrials.

Enter Charles River Alley Cats.

The day after we trapping Mom and kids, we approached them at an adoption event at the Petco in Brighton, desperate for advice, and it was all business.

Friendly and empathetic, but all business:  How many cats, what was their health, what was their behavior, were there other ferals still outside, what was I feeding them?  Do they have fleas, have they been wormed?  Then it was onto How big are the kittens, they should be spayed or neutered at two pounds, are you up for trying to trap the fathers?  Are you going to adopt them, do you need help finding homes?

To cut a long story short we were able to trap and return two more strays, one who was obviously one of the fathers and a female.  We say "one of the fathers," for we, ignorant as we were, learned that the kittens in a litter may not have the same father.  Promiscuous mating can do that.

A Charles River Alley Cat trap with a post-operative Father Cat lurking in back.

We learned how to manage the feeding and the cleaning of the cage of a trapped cat with judicious use of a sheet and a cage fork.

Post-operative feral female posing with a cage fork.

We witnessed the inside loading dock of the Animal Rescue League, stuffed to the walls with about one hundred (we counted) cages of recently spayed and neutered animals.  The TNR movement has adopted a clipped ear as the signal to others that a stray has already been TNRed.

We learned that all-black cats—the classic Hallowe'en cat—are very hard to place in "forever homes."

We learned that we were totally unprepared to understand kitten- and mother cat–psychology.  Mother Cat kept horning in on our attempts to socialize the kittens.  And, the most social kitten in a litter adopts the same behavior as the least social one.  It pays to segregate the cats and socialize them individually, but let them play together.

We also learned that being entertained by a three-ring Kitten Circus in the kitchen with playtoys and ping pong balls and empty cardboard boxes was better than watching TV.

As far as input and output, it is amazing how much food moves through a nursing cat and her litter.  We have scooped more clumping litter than we ever though possible.  (What is the environmentally best way way to deal with this waste?)

We were definitely emotionally unprepared for how hard we were affected by giving up Mother Cat for adoption.  And, by how much we missed the two kitten who were passed over into the hands of more capable foster homes.

So, here's the pitch—

Charles River Alley Cats does everything they do on a shoe-string.

They charge a modest fee when you adopt through them.  But, they still need your assistance.  They need you to give them cash.  They need you to give them cat food, kitty food, cat carriers, feeding dishes, cat litter.  If you can name it, and if has to do with a cat, they can use more of it .  Check out the donation page on their web site.

Charles River Alley Cats needs you to volunteer for them.  Whether you have only thirty minutes a day to give, or carpentry skills, or just a little spare space in your garage or basement, you can help  Here is the volunteer page.

But, most of all they—and all of us—need for folk to have a care for the local cats.

  • If you have a cat, get it spayed or neutered.  If you want to experience the lunacy of a three-ring Kitten Circus in your kitchen, you can adopt some already-born kittens without breeding new ones.  Or, you can temporarily foster some kittens.
  • If you have a cat you can no long care for, surrender it to an organization that can; don't just dump it outside to fend for itself.  That's just not fair.
  • If you have strays living in your corner of Fort Hill (and, you almost surely do), think hard whether you are able to trap-neuter-return (TNR) some or all of these co-residents.
Whether you think cats are weird and inscrutable, extra-terrestrial creatures or whether you dote on cats, there is something you can do to make life easier for these deserving, neighborhood animals.

We'll tidy up some details in a later post.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Feline Yin and Yang on Fort Hill

Two of three rescued kittens.
We've buried more than our fair share of stray cats.  It's usually during a harsh winter.  Sometimes it has been after a collision with an automobile in the summer.

It's never pretty.  It's never easy.

In the winter, one has to pick a location, clear the snow, and hope the digging isn't too difficult.  It can be a hard job of work to break up the frozen ground with a pickax or mattock.  Never mind the trouble shoveling through the damned Roxbury rocks.

In the summer, the grave has to be dug deep enough to discourage Nature's  recycling scavengers from picking up the scent, digging up the carcass, and settling down to a tasty, foetid bite to eat.

In summer or in winter, after rigor mortis has set in, it is hard to sensitively balance respect for the remains of the deceased cat with digging a reasonably sized hole for the grave. In the absence of rubber gloves, and in a howling wind, fitting the furry body into the too-small hole using only the business end of a shovel...is...well, emotionally taxing.

As we said, it's never pretty; it's never easy. And, we always hate it.

So, when Mother Cat and her litter of three kittens showed up on our porch, it seemed necessary to do the right thing.  To treat with respect the feline co-inhabitants of our little square of green space in the city.  To reduce the chances of another mid-winter burial.

And, to return thanks for the colony's work to thin out the verminous squirrel population:  three carcasses, and counting.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

It's a Zoo on Fort Hill

A couple of comments at UniversalHub tell us that it's a Zoo on Fort Hill, with raccoons and skunks.  We've seen opossums, too.

And cats.  Feral cats.

A jet black mother cat was zonked out on the back porch the day before yesterday afternoon.  She had three rambunctious kittens who were alternately nursing and batting at the foliage being driven to and fro in the strong winds.  The mother was so sound asleep that we were able to approach within three feet to set down tuna and a water bowl.

By the time we returned with dry food and the camera, the mother cat was up and about, hissing and walking to the other end of the porch, attempting to draw our attention away from her litter.

Wanting to be responsible fellow urban mammals, we withdrew to watch.  Holy moley.  Nursing cats need a lot of food, for Mother Cat inhaled the tuna and then went to work with a vengeance, wolfing down the dry food.

Graduating from urban mammal to responsible urban citizens and thinking that three more fertile cats were not the best demographic addition to the neighborhood, we consulted the internet to see what we could read about feral cats.

Perhaps we could squeeze out a low-effort post to Jonas Prang, decorated with a few shameless kitty pics.  Hopefully we could figure out what to do about these cursorial carnivores.  (And, perhaps take our minds off yet more human carnage in Roxbury.)

After two hours of reading, we put the hope of a low-effort post to rest.  And, the hope of low-effort action to do the right thing by these...well...kitties.

TNR:  Trap, neuter, and return [ASPCA web site] seems to be the fashionable response to feral cats.  Trap and kill—the run-of-the-mill response to vermin—causes a vacuum effect.  Destroying a stable feral population merely invites new feline neighbors to move in to replaced the ones recently slaughtered.

A modest amount of googling for feral cats yields a stunning amount to read.  In an American society besotted with dogs and cats, why were we surprised?

So, to conclude this post we will provide just one more shameless kitty pic of our new neighbors.  And, we'll give a lightly annotated list of pages that seem useful for learning what to do about feral cats.

  • Commonwealth Cats, with a Peabody mailing address, may be what we need if we can bestir ourselves to trap this mom and her kits.
  • The resources page at Commonwealth Cats yields a link to the band-width-heavy web site of Alley Cat Allies a 501(c)3 organization with $4 million annual budget and net assets of $2.8M.  Perhaps they would make a small contribution so Jonas Prang can get these cats neutered.  We have to give them credit, though, for they make it easy to read their annual reports from FY 2003 to FY 2009. [3.4MB pdf]  And, they offer to send you their IRS 990, useful to see how 501(c)3s are overpaying their executive staff.
  • Drop Trap Design is a blog that tells how to build and operate a drop trap.  It also tells that cats are apparently so stupid that one can trap them over and over and over again, and they never catch on to the scheme.
  • Neighborhood Cats is pleased with its design for Tomahawk's Feral Cat Trap.
  • There is the sweetly-named, local, Jamaica Plain HubCats, though this site hasn't been updated since March 2008.
  • Here is STOP Clinic (Stop the Overpopulation of Pets), operated out of Weymouth.
  • And finally, there is the inevitable Wikipedia article on feral cats
Oh, and one more thing:  It seems mother cat has her own trap 'n' kill program, for skin and bones laid out just a few cat steps from the nursing cat are all that remain of one of the resident squirrels.

Make that trap 'n' kill 'n' eat.
Two days later, the bones are gone and only the pelt remains.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Refuge Church of Christ

The former Fellowes Atheneum in March 2010.
The Refuge Church of Christ at 46 Millmont Street, opposite the Lambert Playground, has a new (to us) sign out front.

The sign announces that the church has received a matching emergency grant from the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund. The recipients and amounts from the current grant round 16 (Award selection June 9, 2010) have not been posted to their web site.

Other grant recipients in Roxbury from this fund have been the Roxbury Presbyterian Church (round 11) and Hibernian Hall (round 10).

The National Trust for Historic Preservation made a $5,000 grant [page 14 of a 44-page pdf] to the Refuge Church of Christ in their fiscal year 2009.

Beyond the pestilential aggregator advertising sites, the Refuge Church of Christ has no web presence.  Their fundraising consultant Jillian Adams, Building Legacy, features a picture on her web page and displays a short testimonial quote on her Results page.

The comprehensive Emmanuel Gospel Center Church Directory does provide a telephone number and an impressive list of personnel for the Refuge Church: Bishop R Lawson (founder), Bishop Theodore Hester Sr, Rachel Adams (Secretary), and Jo-Ann Gay (Secretary).

McGinley Kalsow of Somerville is listed on the sign as the preservation architect.  It appears this is their second project in Roxbury after the Shirley-Eustis House, and they give several projects in close-by neighborhoods on their impressive portfolios page:  the Union United Methodist Church in the South End; St. Brendan's and the former St. Margaret's in Dorchester; and St. George Cathedral, St. Vincent de Paul, and Gate of Heaven in South Boston.

Jack Aniceto is the masonry contractor.  He has worked on a number of significant local projects and his skill with masonry restoration vastly surpasses the poor quality of his German-based web site.

Refuge Church of Christ Phase 1 Emergency Stabilization.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Destinations off the hill: the walking route to Kenmore

Edward M. Kennedy's funeral mass was said 29 August at the Mission Church. In many ways this minor basilica is a much more impressive building from the back than it is from the front.

In an earlier post we sung the praises of Fort Hill's location, briefly listing some of its nearby cultural, educational, and transportation options. Still speaking from the stance of a Fort Hill booster, this post will take a more practical slant and try to take a liability—poor transit options on the NNW to NW of Roxbury Crossing—and turn it into a benefit.

For the most part, the transit options from Fort Hill are particularly fine and varied. The Orange line is excellent for those going NE to the city center or SW to Jamaica Plain. The 19, 22, 23, and 28 buses serve reasonably well for those going S and SE to Dorchester. The 15 and 41 do a decent job when heading due E. At the best times of day the 66 is tolerable going W into Brookline.

But, the MBTA has nothing quick when one is heading N or NNW to the Longwood Medical Area, to the Gardner Museum, to MFA, to the Fens, or to Kenmore.

It is in this direction that the old libel against the T is so true: Should we walk? Or, do we have time to take the T?

When headed NNW, it is always best to walk or to bicycle. And, walking works just fine. Early last week (perhaps on the same day Iseut was collecting an oral history on the Mission Church Grammar School) we headed out to the Kenmore office of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. (Via the MBTA, we would have to take the 66 bus and change to the 65. Or, schlep in on the Orange Line, doing a walking transfer at Back Bay-Copley to head back out to Kenmore.)

Here is the route we took:
  • Tremont to Gurney, cut through the vacant lot to Smith, Smith to St. Alphonsus to Huntington.
  • Take the unregulated crosswalk just inbound from Ward Street to avoid waiting at the dangerous light at Longwood.
  • Then head inbound on Huntington to Evans Way and cut through the park to The Fenway.
  • Take either crosswalk over The Fenway (in front the Gardner Museum or further up in front of Simmons) and descend to the level of the Muddy River (see the great field of daffodils in the springtime).
  • Rise up from the river at Park Drive, taking your life into your hands at the crosswalks there.
  • Pass through the Field of Geese under which the Muddy River is buried.
  • Cross over to the north side of Park Drive at the crosswalk.
  • Then it's a straight shot through the snarling intersection at Boylston and up Brookline to Harvard Vanguard.
With one twiddle, Google figures it to be 28 minutes; we walked it in 20 with five minutes to cool down. (Google wants you to take Parker Street to Ruggles, when the back way up Smith Street is a much nicer walk.)

Walking this route is not only a practical mode to reach an appointment in Kenmore, but it is also an interesting walk. Here is a handful of briefly annotated photographs depicting what can be seen along this route as far as Isabella Gardner's unfortunate backyard.

The Maurice J. Tobin School is easy to miss, hidden behind the shade trees on Smith Street. This mural is seen from the playing fields on the east side of the school.

Not the best looking side of St. Alphonus Hall, as seen from the same playing field. At least it's been properly boarded up with plywood painted to match the stone. The worthies at RCC should take notice.

One hopes that this sign can be preserved. As few as five years ago, the internet was bereft of any hits for Pilate's Daughter; it was all Pilates all the time. Now Google yields a fair amount of notice for the search string. Perhaps John Clifford could tell us something from a first-hand perspective.

Every spring, the management company at Mission Main plants what becomes a tsunami of impatiens by season's end. The begonias don't do too badly either.

Devotion to Our Lady is laudably strong on Smith Street, with at least three effigies—but no blue bathtubs. The less laudable inflatable pumpkins, reindeer, and Santa Clauses are due to erupt anytime now. Chacun à son goût.

A view of the "new", formerly infamous Boston State College building viewed from St. Alphonsus Street. A middling building of its kind, we're hoping that auditorium is working out for MassArt, it's current occupants.

The former site of a grifty little gas station at the corner of Ward and St. Alphonsus streets, this park is a great improvement.

It's a shame about Isabella's carriage house, but we're hoping the trustees have made the right bet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rush Hour Bicycle Census at Columbus & Cedar

1885 Ordinary, with the small wheel in front.  From Patent Pending Blog.
We performed another bicycle census at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Cedar Street this past Thursday, 23 September 2010 between 5 and 6 pm.  The temperature was in the high 60s, the wind was calm, and the skies were clear.  We posted ourselves on the outbound side of Columbus Avenue just north of Cedar Street.

Our previous census was done on 3 June 2010 from 5:18 to 5:40 pm. We counted on our fingers while waiting for a #22 bus to show up.  We counted 103 bicyclists. This was done over a 22-1/2 minute period, yielding an hourly rate of 275 bicycles/hour.

This time, equipped with paper and pencil, we performed a more deliberate census making tallies for each five-minute interval between 5 and 6 pm.  For both the inbound and outbound directions we counted helmeted and unhelmeted bicyclists, walkers, and runners.

Surprising to us, the hourly rate was  213, a 22% drop from the 3 June count.  Put another way, in the 25 minute interval between 5:15 and 5:40—approximately the same time period of the June count—there were only 95 bicycles compared with 103 in 22-1/2 minutes.

One oughtn't generalize from only two counts, but we would have thought that with the students back in town there would have been more bicyclists, not fewer.

Here is a summary of the results for bicycles:


And for Pedestrians:


The split between helmeted and unhelmeted bicyclists was 70:30, far different to my guesstimate on 3 June of 95:5.  The split between outbound and inbound bicycle traffic was 81:19, remarkably close to my guesstimate in June.

Another observation is that the unhelmeted inbound riders—going against the homeward commute—exceeded the number of helmeted riders, while outbound the helmeted riders outnumbered the unhelmeted ones by a greater than a 3-to-1 margin.

There was one recumbent bicycle (outbound) and one bicycle rigged for freight (inbound) with an extended frame in the rear.  There were two outbound scooters not included in the count.  The were only two bicyclists traveling in Columbus Avenue proper; they were both inbound and were included in the count.

Bell Biker Bicycle Helmet.  Photo by Melissa Lew from America On the Move.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Feeling stimulated? Some of ARRA's $787B comes your way

First it was Talbot Avenue, crosswalks, bike lanes, parking strips, and 'adjusting' the Codman Square traffic flow.  Very nice.

Then it was Blue Hill Avenue, done at the beginning of rush hour, that made Morton Street/Rt. 203 an attractive alternate route.  Didn't MLKing Blvd get redone, too?

Now tonight it sounds like Marine One is hovering low, in front of Roxbury Community College.  Our stimulus dollars have arrived circa your house.

The spreader machine with its dump truck tender is surprisingly quiet.  It's the growler in the picture on the bottom (and its mate) that make all the low rumbling noise.

The politicians want you to know that all that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dough is well spent.  Here's what the Feds have to say.  This is the Commonwealth's take on things.  The City of Boston provides its accounting here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Moving on: A wistful farewell to the Third Decade

This delightful photograph is from an occasional series TD ran depicting various attempts of too-large-vehicles to slalom down his too-small street.

The Third Decade announced back in June that he was ending his six-year-long affair with blogging and will continue canoodling exclusively with Twitter and Facebook.

More's the pity.

From C'mon, Bush, Talk to the Colored Folk and the continuing saga of Homeownership in 2004 to Boloco and From Filenes to Ferdinand in 2010, it was a good run. And in between, he was eying the cute guys on the Orange Line and sharing ruminations on how the city worked—and didn't work.

We keep checking the blog, hoping TD will change his mind, but that seems not to be in the cards.

It's too bad that TD changed the blog layout with the last post. The elegantly narrow, black and white streetscape is gone, replaced with a vapid green layout. (On what other local blog have we seen that theme?)

Moreover, with the hasty change in layout, the navigation has been broken so that one has to twiddle with the url to get early pages.

And he can't count very well, for his 30s were his fourth decade, not his third.

Sigh. We sound jilted, don't we? Abandoned for the ephemera of tweets and feeds, where it's hard to discriminate between noise and signal.

Third Decade, we'll miss you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why we can't have nice things

Here are some of the handsome murals on the pillars at the Roxbury Crossing T stop.

Our favorite one is on the far left. We love the fanciful combination of the Chinese gate framing the mosque's minaret. The colors are dark and rich.

Its mate, on the right, frames the Mission Church's towers in a vaguely Moorish gate. It uses a lighter palette of blue and pink.

We thought they were a sensitive addition of public art to the second-rate design of that train station.

A vandal seemed to think otherwise. He seemed to think that his personal graffito would improve things.

Our mothers might say: This is why we can't have nice things!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is it Fort Hill? Or, Highland Park? Perhaps it is the Roxbury Highlands?

This nice map appeared on eeka's blog last year. Quibbling, we would rope in the triangular Veteran's Park at the northeast corner. That yields only five long boundary streets, without that short pesky stretch of Shawmut.

Jonas Prang's focus is on the area of Roxbury bounded by Malcolm X Boulevard, Washington Street, Marcella Street, Ritchie Street, and Columbus Avenue.

Some folk seem to get agitated when the supposedly down-market moniker "Fort Hill" is used instead of the leafy appellation "Highland Park." The exalted epithet "Roxbury Highlands" has some adherents, too.

We think that any of the three names works just fine. And, work they do in different contexts.

Google Maps labels the area Highland Park, unless one zooms in too close.

Drop "Roxbury Highlands" Boston into maps.google and get this.

Do the same with "Fort Hill" Boston and get some other Fort Hill located in Hingham.

The neighborhood organizations seem to split the difference between Hill and Park. So a web site entitled "Highland Park Neighborhood" gives the "Fort Hill Civic Association" as the neighborhood's de facto town meeting, while also listing meeting times for the "Highland Park Neighborhood Assn."

Then, the on-again-off-again Our Highland describes itself as a" one-stop website for everything Highland Park, Roxbury."

For another example, in helping some folk to find housing in Greater Boston, we've been cruising through the Craigslist listings.

At the time we did our search, in boston/cambridge/brookline > housing > apts by owner, there were no apartments in "Highland Park," nor were there any in "Roxbury Highlands."

One is a little luckier with "Fort Hill." There were nine listings.

Alas, of these only five are unique, and only three of these are actually listed by the owner. The four other listings are broker-generated for the same, apparently haplessly unrentable, apartment.

Does this make "Fort Hill" more exclusive than "Mission Hill" with its 23 listings?

[An addendum: Iseut addressed the issue of names for Fort Hill in a post in March. A few other folk weighed in with comments, some more helpful than others.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Youth Resources for Greater Dudley

While rummaging around the internet, we turned up this document, published just last month, Neighborhood Briefing Document: Greater Dudley [2.5MB pdf]. It is published as Issue 58, August 2010, of the Emmanuel Research Review.

From the table of contents page:

"The Greater Dudley Neighborhood Briefing Document was researched and written by Rudy Mitchell for the Youth Violence Prevention Funder Learning Collaborative, with funding provided by the State Street Foundation. Design by Grace Lee. Layout by Steve Daman."

The work is copyrighted, 2010, by the Youth Violence Systems Project, and performed under the aegis of the Urban Ministry Resources of the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Running to 64 pages, the paper is a background document intended for "urban pastors, leaders, and community members in their efforts to serve their communities effectively" [cite]. It provides a twelve-page history of Roxbury, from the birth of John Craft in 1630 to the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan (2004) [21MB pdf from the BRA].

For the document's purpose, the author clips Roxbury Highlands in half, including only the census tracts north of Cedar Street in the Greater Dudley study area (pdf page 17), though on the east side of Washington Street, Greater Dudley stretches beyond Malcolm X Park to Elmore Street.

The study details characteristics of the population (trends and ethnic/racial composition using Roxbury data as a whole; age, language, family structure, and economics and income from US Census tract data) and housing (owner-occupancy, also from Census data).

Then community institutions are enumerated and youth-oriented programs briefly described: the 42 Churches and Religious Institutions, plus the three convents and two mosques, the twelve schools (plus Gordon-Conwell's Center for Urban Ministerial Education, Northeastern University, and Roxbury Community College, and mistakenly mapping the Timilty School in Dudley Square in addition to its actual location in Eliot Square), the 29 Community Organizations and Programs, and the five Neighborhood Organizations.

Some Boston Police Department Youth Crime Statistics (2008) are given, concluding with a brief survey of Community Newspapers and Media and a two-page bibliography. Together with the newspapers and radio station, Both Ends of Dudley and Jonas Prang are the only two blogs listed.

Other Boston neighborhood studies for Uphams Corner, Bowdoin/Geneva, Grove Hall, South End/Lower Roxbury, and Morton/Norfolk are available at the EGC web site.

The first photograph, perhaps it aptly could be titled "The Three Young Men," was taken by Chase Grogan, Roxbury Presbyterian Church. The second, taken from page 4 of the Briefing Document, is an original oil painting by John Ritto Penniman (c. 1782-1841) of Meetinghouse Hill, Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1799. Art Institute of Chicago.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sofrito! Tropical Foods vs. C-Mart


It's time to prepare a mess of sofrito before winter sets in. Then it goes into everything: black beans, fried white cheese, soup, poached chicken breasts. If it's heated, put some sofrito in it.

There's no need to be picky about proportions, just go with your gut. There's dozens of recipes available on the web, but you don't need to slavishly follow any of them.

What you need are these basic ingredients, plus a blender or food processor, and ice cube trays:

red onions
red peppers (or green peppers or both)

In addition culantro (racao) and ajices dulces (ajicito pepper) are good if you can find them.

Chop things up a bit with the kitchen knife and toss everything in the blender or food processor. Run the blender or food processor, but not so long so that you have a puree. You want to be able to see the individual ingredients.

Then spoon the mixture out into ice cube trays and freeze. Sofrito keeps fresh in the refrigerator for a couple or three days, so if you don't have enough ice cube trays for the whole recipe, freeze the batch a bit at a time.

Once the sofrito is frozen, dump it out into double-bagged Ziplock bags and put the bags in the freezer.

As we've pointed out elsewhere photojournalism is not our specialty and neither is writing about food. So, we had the presence of mind to photograph the end result, but not to photograph the marvelous pile of fresh ingredients at the start of the preparation.

The afternoon we prepared our winter sofrito we needed cilantro, culantro, garlic, and ajices dulces, already having the other ingredients on hand.

So, we took the 41 bus to Dudley and walked in-bound on Washington Street to Tropical Foods, 2101 Washington St.

After looking around and failing to find them, we asked a manager where the culantro and the ajices dulces were. He repeatedly tried to direct us to the cilantro, but we insisted on culantro. The cilantro looked ratty anyway.

Finally the manager (an Anglo as it turned out) told us to ask "that guy—he speaks Spanish."

"That guy" knew right away that culantro was the same things as racao. He pointed us to the mezzanine shelf where both culantro and ajices dulces were available, pre-packaged.

After looking at the garlic ($1.99/lb), we thought we could get better looking garlic at C-Mart (Washington at Herald Street) and we wanted to see if they carried culantro and ajices dulces, so off we went to take the Ridiculous Silver Line to Chinatown.

C-mart didn't have ajices dulces, but they did have culantro, labeled in Chinese characters. The cilantro came in big bushy bundles. The culantro was cheaper at C-Mart; the garlic was cheaper at Tropical Foods. (The best cilantro was at Russo's in Waltham: $1.29 for a big happy-looking bunch.)

So here's the price comparison:

Tropical FoodsC-Mart
Cilantroratty looking$0.79/bunch

We try to keep this blog focused on its catchment: south of Malcolm X, west of Washington, north of Marcella/Ritchie, and east of Columbus. Since some essentials, like food, lie outside these bounds occasionally we'll stray afield (but, see here and here).

[We're no html jockeys for sure. The table looks fine in Blogspot's Compose and Preview modes, but gets a huge amount of head room when published. The table tag, without the angle brackets, looks like this: table style="background-color: white; width: 276px; height: 211px;" border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0". Blogspot supplies the width and height parameters.

If anybody sees what's wrong, we'd appreciate a comment .]

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Old Sad Dudley Manor on Centre Street

The Board of Regents & Roxbury Community College (RCC) are making their mark in Highland Park.

As the owners of record of 167 Centre Street, the Regents had been leasing out the premises to to long-time tenants, F.I.R.S.T Askia Academy. For many years FIRST Academy held a Christmas Tree sale from the adjacent RCC parking lot. They were decent neighbors, keeping to themselves and keeping the grounds in reasonably good shape.

But some time before February 2010, FIRST Academy pulled up stakes and left. We had first noted that the building was vacant toward the end of February. [The Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center and The Dimock Center seem to be the only non-aggregating sites on the web that describe FIRST.]

It is a gracious house and we wanted to write about it, but hesitated to bring attention to it when it was vacant and disused.

We needn't have worried.

The picture at the beginning of this post is what in-bound commuters on Columbus Avenue see when they look across the parking lot after passing the intersection with Centre Street. The careless, unpainted boards of plywood fairly cry out to those passing by Abandoned! Disused! Vacant! Disinvestment!

We know times are tough for everyone. We're sure that at the time this boarding up was done, it was done with the best intention of securing an important community asset. The plywood, no doubt, seemed a responsible guard against squatting, vandalism, and worse.

And yet, we wish there had been more thought given before these plywood sheets were slapped up. When RCC was being built there was talk of making the Dudley Manor into the president's house. What a grand president's house it would have been. But a "residential treatment program for recovering substance abusers" was a righteous use, too.

At the end of August, City Councillor Rob Consalvo proposed (with Councillors Maureen Feeney and Steve Murphy concurring) an amendment to a city ordinance governing maintenance of foreclosed property. It would have enabled the Inspectional Services Department to require owners of foreclosed property to secure the windows and doors from the inside to make the property look more secure and less offensive. If the City government considers compelling absentee landlords to treat the streetscape with respect, RCC might do well to reconsider how it has defaced the Dudley Manor. [Universal Hub article from ]

This summer RCC undertook a significant program of resetting all the granite coping on its three brick buildings. No doubt there was other work done at the roof line as well that was not obvious from the ground. The community is happy that the college is taking care of its buildings.

But, the old Dudley Manor house should receive at least as much care from RCC as do the new buildings. Perhaps there is a plan for this historic house. It would be nice to learn what it is.

Here is the Dudley Manor on a warm February afternoon before its plywooding.

Curiously, there is very little to be found about the Dudley Manor on the web. Except for the mention on the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center site, it is not even clear that the building should be called the Dudley Manor.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eid al-Fitr at Jack Crump Field

This morning was a classic September, New England morning, with the promise of warmth, and the boding of approaching winter. At 6:45 am, the temperature was in the high 50s, slowly rising with the sun. The sky was bright blue, sparsely dotted with slow-moving, puffy white clouds. There was a brisk wind. It was chilly enough for a wind breaker, and warm enough to have regretted bringing it when the sun was high in the sky.

I stood watching from the bleachers as the men and boys streamed past toward the eastern end zone of the Jack Crump football field. At the other end of the field, toward the 40 yard line, the women and children were arriving.

At one point early on, a large pleasant women in a vast black niqab shooed me away from the (unmarked) children's section and told me to sit on the bleachers where the men were. Never did instructions from Security seem so unexpected and congenial.

There were men and boys of every stripe streaming onto the field. Of hats I saw knitted skull caps—white ones and black ones—Afghani pakols, keffiyehs, and turbans. I even saw one fez. There were a few men in formal black suits, medical personnel in scrubs, young men casually dressed in jeans and shirts open at the collar. Many men were wearing light, calf-length thobes, some stopping to pull them from their backpacks and don them before going down to the field. Almost every man seemed to have a prayer rug and a plastic shopping bag for his shoes.

Eventually a man came to the bleachers and shooed all the able-bodied men out of the bleachers and down onto the field.

Advertised for 7 to 7:30 am, Takbeer seemed to stretch on toward 8:15, with many different men leading, in turn, from the microphone. Young men and boys were especially urged to come forward, so much of the time the chant, while earnest and charming, was oddly childish and atonal. Once prayer started at around 8:20, though, there was an experienced and mellifluous adult chanter.

Periodically, during takbeer, a warm-voiced and inviting man instructed the crowd on worship etiquette. There was brief instruction on what already should have been done—the rising, the washing, the breaking of the fast—and what yet should be done—the contribution made before the prayers, the embrace of the joy of the day, the passing on of the joy, smiling, making contributions to charity.

The men were reminded that they should apply a pleasant scent to their bodies, perhaps borrowing some from the man sitting next to them if they had forgotten. The women, too, were asked that they use some scent—not over much, so people distant from them couldn't tell, but only enough so that those they embraced or greeted would smell it.

The assembled were encouraged to visit the mosque, browse through the souk, and to partake of the doughnuts and other food there.

Then folk were instructed to straighten their lines. Volunteers helped ensure that, looking left and right, the aisles between lines of worshipers were clear and straight. Then the prayers began.

This was my first experience of Muslim worship, so I was surprised when a scant twenty minutes later, around 8:40, at an obvious break, many of those assembled began to leave or stood and chatted with neighbors while a sermon was delivered. The great majority stayed seated, but the fringes of the crowd broke out into a festival atmosphere of greeting friends and remaking acquaintances.

There were perhaps two to three thousand people present on the field, far short of the ten thousand anticipated in the parking plan. Police presence was much less than one might expect for an event of similar size, with senior police officers (gold badges) unobtrusively tooling around in green-colored, Boston EMS electric carts. There were fewer than a half a dozen Special Detail motorcycle police officers on Tremont Street half-heartedly directing traffic at the intersections of Prentiss Street and at Malcolm X Boulevard. Gloria Fox, Byron Rushing, and Chuck Turner's presence was announced. Mayor Menino was expected, but had not yet arrived.

These three days are when the supplications of the faithful are especially heard. But, this morning seemed somewhat subdued in spirit, with less palpable joy of gratitude for the blessings from the Creator. Next year the religious calendar won't conspire with the civil calendar to make the fifteen hundred-year-old Eid al-Fitr coincide with the anniversary of a nine-year-old tragedy. Perhaps in 2011 residents of Boston will feel freer to express their faith publicly and joyously. Kudos to the public officials who came out early this morning to express their solidarity.

It is embarrassing to this non-Muslim that we can't mind our own business. Whether it is people outside of Manhattan voicing their beside-the-point opinions on the business of New Yorkers when they should be worrying about zoning issues in their own communities. Or, whether it is an incendiary, small-time, fringe preacher in Gainesville who should take to heart this line from the Orthodox Lenten prayer: Grant me to see my own errors, and not to judge my brother or sister.

Having not known beforehand how to break fast, when I returned home, I ate three dates.

The ISBCC's web site was unfortunately updated only very late this week with information on today's event. Elsewhere they say that their "website has been compromised."

A calmed Centre Street

Delightful portulaca flourishing at the switch-back onto Fort Ave.

Over the years the traffic on Centre Street between Eliot and Jackson Squares has calmed down. In the '70s when the street was wider and nobody parked on Centre Street, because nobody could afford a car, through traffic raced across this part of Highland Park at speeds of 35 to 45 mph. Two particularly dangerous spots were the crest of the hill at Linwood Street and the five-way intersection with Cedar St. and the switched-back Fort Ave.

Centre St was quicker to Dudley, North Dorchester, and the Southeast Expressway than going down Columbus Avenue. And, the reverse was true, too.

Over the years the street, which had been made wide for streetcars, was narrowed. Then, after a long, labored campaign with the city, a traffic light was installed to limit the weekly accidents at Cedar St.

Columbus Avenue was rebuilt and its grade raised, and the exciting traffic rotary that was Jackson Square was eliminated. No longer a straight shot directly into Jamaica Plain, Centre St. was bent almost at a right-angle at Highland St to make a perpendicular intersection at Columbus Avenue with Heath Street.

A truck prohibition was placed on Cedar St. (Careful readers will be happy to note that there is no prohibition on elk, but, to the contrary, they are explicitly permitted on Cedar St.)

Eliot Square was reconfigured and traffic lights were installed, further discouraging through traffic.

Then Centre St was repaved and made quieter because heavy trucks and fast-moving cars no longer went rocketing through the pot holes. Except for the short stretch south of Cedar and north of that little stub of New Heath Street, which remained crater-ridden.

But, just this past week even that stretch of Centre St has been repaved, making the road even quieter.

With the tinkering with the lights at Eliot Sq., giving east-bound Roxbury St. priority, and making through Centre St. traffic wait for 30 seconds for a green, it no longer pays to cut through Highland Park.

The next desirable disincentive may be to implement parking restrictions to cut down on the number of Orange Line commuters, Roxbury Community College students, and Friday afternoon Mosque worshipers who use Centre St for subsidized parking.

Perhaps a residents-only restriction from 8 to 10 am Monday through Friday and noon to 2 pm on Friday would do the trick.

It will be important to implement parking restrictions carefully. Most residents make use of on-street parking. Some run small businesses out of their homes and need unrestricted visitor parking.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Quiet neighborhood the night before Eid crowds arrive

A quick circuit down Gardner Street, up Malcom X Blvd, to Roxbury Street shows the no stopping event signs to be up. The few remaining cars parked on Roxbury Street between Malcolm X Blvd and Eliot Square leafleted. Ashur Restaurant is hopping at 10:15 pm, so Elmwood Street still has customers parked there.

The mosque is locked, but the lights are burning bright inside. The poster on the front door says the event parking tickets could be had for $10 each.

The best, unregulated parking for those who arrive early enough is probably the dozen or so spaces on King Street.

On such a crisp and quiet night just before bedtime, it's hard to believe there will be 10,000 folk flocking to Crump Field in seven to eight hours' time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Illegal Boston Police parking opposite Headquarters is as perennial as weeds

Click on the photo and enlarge it to see four public servants conducting important police business. The car blocking the sidewalk was in gear and drifted dangerously forward as your reporter walked by.

Illegal Boston Police parking continues unabated on the sidewalk of inbound Tremont Street opposite Police Headquarters.

The entire parking lane of southbound Tremont St. has been given over to Police Parking, from Whittier St. all the way to Malcolm X Blvd, but that doesn't seem to have changed things a bit.

In fact, a stroll by One Schroeder Plaza today shows that not only do the Boston Police need the parking legally designated as official police parking, but they also need to block the MBTA bus stop just north of Prentiss Street on the outbound side of Tremont. And, the illegal police parking extends into the right-hand turn lane at Roxbury Crossing

This problem is as perennial as weeds. Universal Hub reported on a variation of this problem in February of last year. This past June, on another story at Universal Hub about the larger problem of People using outlying neighborhoods as alternatives to downtown garages, a commenter noted the illegal parking.

One wonders whether this year's worshipers for Eid al-Fitr will be permitted to use this clever parking strategy on Friday, or if it is restricted to only police officials.