Monday, August 14, 2017

More Pink Flamingo Than Prince of Orange

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Hooray for Prince of Orange the first sweet pea bloom of the season,
but wait ...it's not orange!
Photo: Chronica Domus 


It's that glorious time of year in my garden, a time to rejoice and celebrate the first of the season's sweet pea blooms.  As has become my habit in the last few years, I was again enticed into growing my sweet peas purely from the delicious descriptions printed on the attractively illustrated seed packets. Well, that and the fact that I rather fancied delving into the world of orange sweet peas, a color I had not previously attempted to grow.  Two varieties fit the bill, Prince of Orange and Henry Eckford. The Prince promised "pure, clear orange flowers of excellent substance", while Mr. Eckford assured "spectacular bright orange flowers".  I could not wait to get planting!

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Heirloom varieties of sweet peas in zesty shades of orange beckoned 
to be taken home and planted in my garden
Photo: Chronica Domus


I sowed half a dozen of each variety on April 29 and patiently awaited their germination.  Sweet peas, as you may know, can take an age to get started so I make it a point to soak the seeds overnight in hopes of softening their rock-hard shells.  Right before I sow them into the moist, compost rich soil, I chip away a little of their coating in an effort to aid them along.  Even with this additional step, the seeds can take up to two excruciatingly long weeks to germinate. As William Langland reminds us in his poem, "Piers Plowman" patience is, indeed, a virtue.  I do try though.

Three months have now passed and I'm not exactly sure what happened to Mr. Eckford.  All I have to show for my efforts is a lone plant.  Perhaps the gentleman is a little shy?

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Lathyrus odoratus Henry Eckford was first bred by the man himself in 1906
Photo: Chronica Domus


The few blooms I have been able to gather thus far possess such peculiarly stunted stems that arranging them in a vase is next to impossible.  Ah well, as I'm not one to give up easily I will try planting Henry Eckford again either later in the autumn or early next spring.

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What in the world has happened to Henry Eckford's stems?
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, as for the Prince, imagine my surprise upon seeing his true colors come to light.

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Looks more pink flamingo than Prince of Orange to me!
Photo: Chronica Domus


With barely a scintilla of orange to behold, my dream of gathering orange-hued sweet peas this summer has, alas, been dashed.  Admittedly, despite the unanticipated color, I am really quite chuffed to have pink flamingos taking flight in my vase.  The blooms are exceptionally pretty, no matter their rosy hue.

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Might the Prince's orange reveal itself if I squint I wonder?
Photo: Chronica Domus


As a gardener, albeit an amateur one at best, I am constantly humbled by the act of nurturing the tiniest seed.  Regardless of how meticulously one plots and plans ahead, and despite the coddling and cosseting, Mother Nature always has the last word.  Either that or, as I suspect might be the case here, there was a mix-up at the packet-filling end of things.

Have you ever grown anything from seed with unexpected results?


Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Part II of II: In Pursuit of Beauty and Culture In Boston

Our first day in Boston might have fed my husband's love of revolutionary war history, but our second revolved around some of my favorite indulgences. A treasure trove of fine art and architecture to be oohed and aahed over lay ahead, and I could not wait to get started.

Legging it across Boston's tranquil Public Garden on the way to our first port of call, we happened upon the city's famed fleet of pleasure boats.

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The Swan Boats have been a delightful fixture on the Public Garden's pond since 1877
Photo: Chronica Domus


After sauntering past several wonderfully preserved picturesque streets on Beacon Hill, lined with handsome eighteenth and early-nineteenth century brick houses, and crossing into the West End neighborhood, we finally arrive at our destination.

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Otis House
Photo: Chronica Domus


Built in 1796 for Harrison Gray Otis, the Otis House is a grand Federal-era house that has been on my 'Must See' list for a number of years. The house, by the way, did not always look so grand.

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Almost unrecognizable, Otis House has endured a number of calamitous alterations throughout its history including the removal of its marvelous fanlight and Palladian window, and the addition of  shopfronts lining its facade


Here I was, at last, standing in a most impressively scaled hallway, absorbing the fine detail of architect Charles Bulfinch's work.  It is hard to imagine that this house almost met with the wrecker's ball when everything else around it was being demolished to make way for "improvements" to the neighborhood.

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The grand scale of the hallway - which can only be realized when standing within it - is no
accident having been designed to impress all who cross its threshold
Photo: Chronica Domus


In 1916, William Sumner Appleton purchased the house and began work to raise the funds to meticulously restore it. Part of that restoration work included moving the house off its foundation and setting it back from Cambridge Street which was slated to be widened by the city in 1920.  

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There's much to be admired in the gentle color scheme and restrained furnishings of the hallway which stand in stark contrast to the vivid colors and sumptuous decoration of the principal rooms
Photo: Chronica Domus


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I was rather taken by the elegant simplicity of the glass hall lantern which hangs from a 
hook and is illuminated by a lone wax candle
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The view from the landing
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The shutters of the restored Palladian window
Photo: Chronica Domus


The dining room, seen below, perfectly illustrates the Federal-era's love of vibrant color.  This room has been accurately restored using research garnered from chemical paint analysis.  Is anyone, I wonder, as bold today in their choice of paint colors?

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The Otis' dining room has been decorated as it looked when the family lived there - note 
the green crumb cloth, placed beneath the dining table to protect the costly carpet from errant 
morsels which might stray from the mouths of sloppy diners
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Obviously I need to get with the program and add a similarly useful and beautiful 
tole bottle cooler to my own humble dining room
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A cozy spot for taking tea in the drawing room
Photo: Chronica Domus


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This Federal-era brass curtain tie back, employed in the bedchamber, looks particularly
fetching against yellow silk and soft green paint
Photo: Chronica Domus 


With all the sumptuous distractions of the interior of Otis House, it would be easy to miss the views from any one of the handsome sash windows.  When I took a peek, the nearby Old West Church, built in 1806, was revealed.  

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A most agreeable view
Photo: Chronica Domus


The room below may not be the most opulently decorated room in the house, but it was my favorite. The restful colors and spare decoration are a pleasing juxtaposition to the high drama created by the color and pattern choices within the principal rooms.  The graphic wallpaper pattern, authentic to the period, would not look so out of place in a modern setting.

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No wonder this room housed Harrison Gray Otis' office; the soothing colors are 
certainly conducive to study
Photo: Chronica Domus 


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I loved this ceramic bough pot which rests upon the room's mantelshelf and was 
designed to sit flush against the wall
Photo: Chronica Domus


Visitors to Boston who have an interest in historic houses should certainly take the time to view this one.  I would, however, strongly advise you check the Otis House website when planning your visit as the house is not open daily.  One would hate to be met by a locked door and forfeit an opportunity of viewing the splendors of this fine Federal-era house.

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Otis House's handsome front door lock
Photo: Chronica Domus


Well, that was all so enjoyable but it was barely lunchtime.  We were only half way through our day exploring Boston's first-rate cultural treasures.  Hopping into a nearby taxi, we were soon deposited alongside the towering USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship still afloat (HMS Victory, which I visited several years ago, is technically older but is now permanently in dry dock preserved as a museum).

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We had a rare glimpse of 'Old Ironsides' in its entirety as it sat in dry dock 
undergoing restoration work to its hull (remember to bring your official photo I.D. with 
you if you too wish to hop aboard for a tour given by active duty U.S. Navy sailors)
Photo: Chronica Domus 


The related museum across the way was filled to overflowing with interesting artifacts and information related to the ship. While my husband brushed up on his naval history, I distracted myself with this pair of covet-worthy porcelain urns.

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Commodore Isaac Hull who served aboard the USS Constitution during 
the war of 1812 graces this rather striking porcelain urn
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Dashing Naval Commander. Oliver Hazard Perry, appears 
upon a second dreamy urn
Photo: Chronica Domus


Another taxi ride soon had us at the doors of our final destination, the Museum of Fine Arts.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I could barely contain my excitement at the prospect of spending a pleasurable afternoon visiting one of the world's most comprehensive fine arts museums.  Aside from the phenomenal works on display - which I'll return to shortly - the museum building itself manages to successfully combine traditional Beaux-Arts architecture with modern additions.  

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My photograph of the museum's dome, decorated with John Singer Sargent murals, does 
this stunning space little justice
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The modern glass atrium is home to Dale Chihuly's 42 foot Lime Green Icicle Tower
Photo: Chronica Domus


As predicted, it did not take long before the oohing and aahing began.  Barely stepping foot into the corridor headed in the direction of the Americas Wing, I was stopped in my tracks by this elegant musician...

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Joseph Dominique Fabry Garat Playing a Lyre Guitar by Adèle Romany, circa 1808
Photo: Chronica Domus


and his lady companion...

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Portrait of a Lady at a Pianoforte by Adèle Romany, circa 1808
Photo: Chronica Domus


Once in the Americas Wing the oohing and aahing intensified as we walked by such jewels as this: 

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Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley
Photo: Chronica Domus

and, this:

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John Singleton Copley's portrait of John Quincy Adams, painted in London in 1796
Photo: Chronica Domus

John Singleton Copley (1738 - 1815) was Boston's most prolific and talented artist.  We viewed close to forty of his works which were nothing short of magnificent.  Displayed alongside the paintings are silver, ceramics, and furniture of the period.  Other galleries showcased works by Gilbert Stuart (1755 - 1828) whose unfinished George Washington portrait is recognizable to anyone looking at a one dollar note, and Thomas Sully (1783 - 1872) whose monumental work 'The Passage of The Delaware' dominates the gallery in which it hangs.  What a remarkable treasure trove of jewels!

A respite from the dizzying array of art was soon in order so we headed upstairs to the marvelous Bravo restaurant to refuel on delicious seasonal fare.

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The sophisticated and soothing environment of Bravo restaurant was just the ticket for 
exhausted and hungry art enthusiasts
Photo: Chronica Domus


After dinner, we made our way back downstairs to the Americas Wing to finish viewing the satellite rooms off the main galleries.  These were filled with fine furniture and decorations of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

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The dining room, parlor, and bedchamber - complete with contents - of Oak Hill, a house built by renowned carver and builder Samuel McIntire, is set up much like it was when it was built in 1801
Photo: Chronica Domus


After a trek through the Art of The Ancient World wing where Patience's fascination with Egyptology was satiated, and a quick gander at the Greek and Roman treasures, we called it a day.  It was, after all 10 p.m., time for the museum to close its doors.  

Walking back to our hotel, thoroughly exhausted but buoyed from our jam-packed day of cultural pursuits, we all agreed that Boston is indeed an exemplary city full of extraordinary treasures.  How very fortunate are its fair citizens and visitors alike.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Part I of II: A Mosey Through Boston

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Photo: Chronica Domus


This was our first visit to Boston. Boston USA, that is.  It's funny to think that only six months prior, quite by serendipity, we found ourselves visiting the original market town of Boston in Lincolnshire, when we traveled there on our way to view the house I wrote about, here.  The two towns could not be any more different.  Boston Massachusetts is enormous by comparison to the somewhat sleepy Lincolnshire port town.

With only two days and three nights to take in the charms of this bustling city, we decided to camp out at Copley Square, a good central starting point for anyone wishing to explore the city on foot. Within a few minutes walk from our hotel, we found the main branch of the Boston Public Library, the first of many places we had earmarked to explore.  Make no mistake, for there is plenty to view in this magnificent temple of scholarly pursuits beyond books. John Singer Sargent's murals, for example.

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The Triumph of Religion murals, seen in the vaulted Sargent Gallery, were painted in England and installed between 1895 and 1919 and are a departure from the artist's usual subject matter of society portrait painting
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Philosophy, Astronomy, and History form part of Chavannes' Muses of Inspiration Gallery which vies for attention amid the striking stonework of the library's impressive marble staircase 
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The inspirational Bates Hall, named in honor of the library's original benefactor, makes me want to perform scholastic gymnastics
Photo: Chronica Domus


No tour of Boston would be complete without walking part or all of the two and a half mile long Freedom Trail.  By following the red-lined route along Boston's brick pavements, visitors will have the opportunity of viewing sixteen historical landmarks that tell the story of Boston and the part its citizens played in America's revolution and independence from Britain.  Beginning with a leisurely mosey across Boston Common, we found Park Street Church and the Granary Burying Ground.

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In its early days, the Granary Burying Ground was not exactly an ideal locale for a graveyard where boggy conditions from underground springs caused caskets and their contents to regularly float about the place
Photo: Chronica Domus


It is here that some of Boston's famous sons and daughters are laid to rest including revolutionary patriot Paul Revere, statesmen Samuel Adams and John Hancock and, of note, Hancock's servant Frank, who lays at his feet.

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I believe the headstone of Officer John Hurd, who died in 1784, is the most fetching grave marker I have ever laid eyes upon
Photo: Chronica Domus


Continuing on, past King's Chapel, Boston's old City Hall, and Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the United States, it was time for some afternoon refreshment. A pot of tea would surely revive our flagging spirits.  Conveniently, and to the delight of our daughter Patience, we just happened to be standing by the hotel that in 1856 invented the Boston Cream Pie.

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This particular Boston Cream Pie vanished almost as soon as it was served to us at
The Omni Parker House Hotel, America's oldest continuously run hotel ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... as did this, another of the hotel's claims to fame, a light-as-can-be Parker House Roll
Photo: Chronica Domus


After our well-earned intermission of tea and cakes, we were adequately fortified to face the red-brick road ahead.  As it turned out, more tea would soon await.

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The tea leaves contained within the small glass vial, along with the Chinese tea label, survived being tipped into the harbor on December 16, 1773, the day of Boston's famous Tea Party
Photo: Chronica Domus


The Old South Meeting House, built in 1729, is home to some fascinating artifacts and exhibits which tell the story of the Boston Tea Party.   Also on display is a giltwood clock that made my heart beat a little faster.

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I was rather gobsmacked at the sight of this fine colossal gallery clock, made by Simon Willard in 1800
Photo: Chronica Domus


Next stop, The Old State House, Boston's oldest public building.  It was in this building that the Declaration of American Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776, an amazing feat when one considers the Old State House was once the seat of colonial British government.  As I stood in the building's basement, I heard what I perceived to be the rumble of nearby trains. Astonishingly, my ears did not deceive for I soon learned the historic structure sits smack dab atop a subway station.

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A model of the Old State House - notice the doorway to the right which leads to the subway station directly beneath the building
Photo: Chronica Domus


At some point in the building's history, an architect followed a set of incorrect plans and installed this spiral staircase instead of an intended assembly chamber - I'm rather pleased he did because I was compelled to photograph it, so impressed with its shapely form, and unaware of its quirky history until doing research for this post
Photo: Chronica Domus


On we trod, past Faneuil Hall to Charles Bulfinch's extension, The Great Hall, which looked appropriately festive for the upcoming Independence Day holiday.

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George Peter Alexander Healy's painting, titled Webster Replying To Senator Hayne, took seven years to complete and hangs on what I've nick-named the 'Wall of Worthies' alongside other notable figures in America's history
Photo: Chronica Domus


By early evening, having zipped by several more notable landmarks, it was beginning to feel as though the Freedom Trail would never end.

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"Are we there yet?"
Photo: Chronica Domus


Time to call it a day but not before a table for dinner was secured at the Union Oyster House, America's oldest restaurant.  Established in 1826, this popular eatery was packed to the gills with hungry patrons looking to fill up on New England's best seafood dishes. With a forty-five minute wait ahead of us, there was plenty of time for one of these:

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Shown here are three of the many booths available for patrons' dining pleasure - Number 18, not illustrated in this photograph, was President John F. Kennedy's favorite booth
Photo: Chronica Domus


Boston is indeed a fun and thriving city full of interesting architectural gems and historic treasures. What I've covered in today's post is just the tip of the iceberg to what is available to be enjoyed by Boston's fortunate visitors.  If you are pressed for time and can only spend a single day here, I highly recommend following our path and walking part, if not all, of the Freedom Trail.  By doing so you will be rewarded with an understanding as to why Boston is one of America's best preserved historical cities. And, like me, you will probably find yourself uttering the words "old" and "oldest" repeatedly throughout your day.

Coming up next, Part II - In pursuit of beauty and culture.

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