The other day we took a break from unpacking and strolled up to Davis Square, which is ten minutes from our house if you stop to admire every house on our street that looks like a bed & breakfast or every front yard with a perfectly manicured flower garden or massive Japanese maple that sends dappled sunlight onto the greenest green grass.
Our errand was a trip to a furniture store called Bowl & Board where they were having a sale on butcher block tables. We’d seen cute ones at Ikea but they all had open shelves and we thought that might be too tempting for our munchkin with his seeking, grabbing, throwing hands, and wanted to find one with a cupboard. While I chased boo around as he attempted to pick up every single spatula, corkscrew and candle in the place and throw it onto the floor, Harlan negotiated to buy a floor sample for a discounted price—and we had success.
We went a couple doors down to the Diesel Cafe for a chai latte and blueberry muffin, which boo ended up wearing more than eating. I suspect that the Diesel Cafe is as hip as it gets in Boston. Intelligentsia coffee (at a fraction of the price as Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney) is served there by the Urban Outfitters crowd, as a surprisingly diverse crowd passes by: stroller-pushing moms, red-faced winos, grandmas and grandpas who were probably born in Somerville and will die there, all heading to McDonalds up the block, which is a virtual old folks home. As I blew on my creamy delicious beverage, plucked crumbs off my son’s chest and bickered harmlessly with my husband who thinks I let our cute kid look like a grungy rugrat, I felt content and, for a moment, even excited.
Besides my hometown, I’ve lived in Paris, in London, in New York, Santa Barbara, Antibes, and there is this rush you get when you settle in to explore a new place. Sitting there in Davis Square, once listed by the Utne Reader as one of the 15 hippest places to live in the U.S., I felt that familiar rush, and this time it was especially significant—and got me almost giddy—because pretty much ever since we found out we were going to move here, I’ve been sulking.
I also felt amused. Because this place is hilarious. It’s a little like Brooklyn with its mix of mom and pop shops and newer, sleeker joints (and the requisite Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and CVS), the locals with heavy accents and freshly infused newcomers here for what the town has to offer. Unlike Brooklyn, though, there is a startling number of the fashion-challenged (a shallow observation that I suppose doesn’t really matter). I don’t really get it, except to speculate that what draws people to Cambridge/Somerville/Boston is education, intellectual pursuits, while in New York people move there to work in the arts, film, fashion, publishing, architecture, advertising, etc., the aesthetics-minded professions. And in Venice, another laid-back, eclectic town, where I lived in most recently and another place where people generally look good, everyone flocks there to become a star.
Anyway, Harlan raced home to get the car to pick up the butcher block and boo and I went to check out the farmers market, which cracked me up. It had maybe 15 stands set up by farmers who looked like they’d hauled their goods in from the next town over (or the vegetable gardens in their backyards). The kale and lettuce had holes in the leaves, making me wonder how the people who sell their so-called organic produce to Whole Foods get theirs to look so flawless. I picked up some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes (tasty, but not as heavenly as the ones we got last week in the Palisades!), a loaf of French bread, some Persian cucumbers (called diva cucumbers here) and peaches. I couldn’t stop chuckling, especially when this woman with long gray locks was talking to a farmer about texting.
“Don’t they do that with cell phones?”
“Yeah, they use strange words. Like to say ‘see you later,’ they write the letter c, the letter u—later.”
This town is part hippie throwback, part intellectual goldmine, part student enclave, part small New England town with beautiful shady streets lines with houses painted all variety of colors from yellow to lilac to taupe, part who knows what else. I’m just figuring it out now.
My sister came to town on Friday and we went out for baby back ribs and slaw at Redbones. The atmosphere was so lively, boo didn’t even melt down. He chowed on french fries and soaked up local color. Afterward we wandered around Davis Square, found a couple of cute clothing stores (yay!), one that even shows local artists’ work and has wine and cheese parties every Wednesday night, shared a scoop of homemade mint oreo ice cream at JP Licks and it was this beautiful, warm late-summer night and my sister was talking about how much she loves small New England towns and how being here makes her dread going back to New York and how she never liked LA to begin with, only talked about moving back there because we were there, and it all worked. I found myself chattering cheerfully about my favorite green house on Orchard Street and how funny it is that we live next door to a church and getting excited to try out this diner in a train car called Rosebud and feeling flushed at the prospect of a new life.
This morning Katya and I did “hot vinyasa” at Baptiste, a trendy yoga school a block from our house. The class was like the yoga I’ve done, but sweatier. Throughout, I felt my body stretching, my muscles becoming the consistency of silly putty. Next to me was a man in his sixties, if not seventies, with white hair, gnarled toenails, a scar shaped like an arrowhead paralleling the line of his ribs, a dolphin tattoo. I wondered about him and his life more than I’ve ever wondered about the supermodels at Yoga Works in Santa Monica.
I was exhausted and physically challenged, but also elated. I might have been high on the b.o. of people downward dogging beside me, but I had this thought that if I did this class consistently, maybe my xanthelasma would go away. Somehow the sweating would break down the toxins that have created the cauliflower-like growth on my face. It’s weird lately how my inner turmoil has manifested itself through my skin. When I went to Tony the healer, he felt the cyst was largely about my mother: anger toward her, the frustration I feel at being unable to have a more civilized relationship with her, her anger that I feel myself channeling when I snap at Harlan. Then I haven’t been able to wear my wedding ring lately because my skin gets chapped and red, creating a scarlet wedding band, my finger rebelling against this move, my marriage, even as I relax into the idea of following the man I married to a strange town where I don’t especially want to live. Maybe as my subconscious relaxes into the move, too, I’ll be able to put my ring on again. And maybe the distance will work magic on my mom’s and my relationship and somehow my skin ailments will clear up as sweat gushes from my pours in my new hot vinyasa class (free for the first week to all who live in the ‘hood!).
The teacher quoted some German philosopher who said that the most important decision you make every day is whether to be in a good mood. “Let life arbitrate,” he said. “Stop trying to take the control away from life.” And the image that popped into my head was being thrown into roaring rapids and, rather than being terrified, laughing my head off. Maybe I’ll eat water. Maybe I’ll be thrown onto the shore. But even if I wind up with a bruised forehead or cracked ribs, I’ll be exhilarated by the cold and speed and rough and tumble of the ride.