A Prudential View of Boston

Not quite a providential view, but… maybe at sunrise or sunset.  A couple hundred years ago, I’d imagine people would think just that.

Technically the Skywalk Observatory, Boston’s Prudential building has set aside it’s 50th floor for a view of the city.  For those interested in some of Boston’s history and notables, there are exhibits to that end.  But, it’s the view you’re paying $17 for.  And it’s a good one, when skies are clear.  Photos… not so exciting.  So, I figured I’d torture them a bit.

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Across the Cambridge River lies M.I.T., with the ugliest dorm in the world at the left edge and their central academic building at the right.

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Here’s a closeup of the historic academic building.  Within, the central corridor running left to right in the picture below is called the “infinite corridor,” measuring almost three football fields long.  It connects the east and west portions of the campus.

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Meanwhile, in the city, Bostonians are kind of packed together.  Still, the buildings have their charm, it’s never oppressive, and people are always actively milling around (in good weather, anyway).

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And, here’s one without the computer alterations… just for a clearer view of what you see.

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Tin Whiskers Brewery

St. Paul, Minnesota is a small city, and very clean with few visible vacancies in its downtown area.  It’s the kind of area you might want to walk around, either on the streets or the connecting skyways.  But, 0oF temperatures and icy roads are not a motivator, and my travels tend to coincide with just that type of weather.   Not this time, though, so it was a great opportunity to visit a new brewery, Tin Whiskers.

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I’m a sucker for robots.  I want to like a brewery with a robot mascot.  I admit.  And I was afraid that their beer would disappoint.  It didn’t. 

The brewery’s location seems unlikely, but a general trend among craft breweries is that they reclaim old or unusual (cheap) structures for their business ventures.  The Rossmor Building is a former shoe factory and now a loft condo. Having a brewery on the ground floor would be pretty convenient for residents.

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Enter the building, take the first door on the right…

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…and there’s a massive robot on the wall.  It’s actually viewable from the sidewalk through large pane windows that allow ample light in the building.  The space within is open and simplistic.  The ubiquitous stainless steel tanks are within view, marginally separated from the tasting area by the bar.

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And, from the bar, good things flow.  This is the Flip Switch IPA.  The company names their beers in terms that relate to electrical engineering, as the founders were once Electrical Engineering students, then home brewers, and now business owners.  The brewery’s name, Tin Whiskers, refers to tiny hairs that grow from metal surfaces in electrical devices, potentially causing short circuits.

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Other beers include the Wheatstone Bridge, Short Bridge, Short Circuit and… you get the drift.  Below is their current Flip Switch “Infusion,” said to include a light peach flavor.  I couldn’t find that, but it was tasty.  On another note, their Short Circuit is described as a “sweet stout,” which I liked a lot – it seemed to thin the stout a bit and make it more drinkable.

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Beer is good.  But there has to be more to brewery visit than that, even with a wall sized beer wielding robot.  There are a couple of low volume TVs, so if you want to watch selected sports programming, you can.

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Wednesdays are trivia night, but Thursdays is robot building.  Bins of Legos are provided, and there is a contest to build the best robot.  The prize?  I don’t know.  But it seems a very creative way to pump your theme and keep people entertained at a table.

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So, suggestions for improvement.  First, they’re only a year old, but they need more variety.  I’m sure they’ll get there in time.  Otherwise, the merchandise… you’ve got a killer logo, but…  not everyone in the world wants to wear black, and if they do, they don’t necessarily want large capital block lettering on the back.  And further, most probably resist paying for any T-shirt that I would call “concert thin,” the cheapest fabric possible.  Get some durable cloth.  And then, for those preferring grey or red, why is the robot on the side?  And the “Tin Whiskers” name plate?  Not needed.  I opted for the tin wall plate by default (upper left of the photo below), but I was hoping for a decent shirt.  (or maybe a hat with a fully centered logo).  Someone got overly creative…  In any case, I’ll see what’s on draught whenever I’m in town.  Good vibe, good beer.

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Boston Public Library

When you visit the Boston Library, maybe you have in mind a scene like this:

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Or, you may not.  But, once seeing it, you realize you’ve seen this some number of times in movies the names of which completely escape you (and me).  It’s the “Reading Room,” otherwise known as Bates Hall.  It measures 218 feet long, 42.5 feet wide,  and 50 feet high, and it is lighted by 15 arched and grilled windows.  Oh, and it has the requisite deathly library  silence.  Interestingly, this about the only room that felt like a library rather than a highly toured museum.

My daughter and I didn’t come across the Library by intention.  It was just on the way between one place and another, in a City built for walking.

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It’s not your typical library.  Up the steps, nod at the guard, enter the marble lobby, scoot past the logo in the floor,

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and find yourself in a museum.  An art museum. 

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There’s plenty of web articles about where the marble is from (some from Georgia), the sculptors, the painters, the VIPs who made it happen.  Here’s some snapshots, the first from the “Abbey Room” which features the Quest for the Holy Grail.  Here, Galahad fights the seven Deadly Sins, who are holding a great company of maidens, “The Virtues.”  Or, so it reads.

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Over in the Sargent gallery, murals represent “The Triumph of Religion.”  The Israelites Oppressed:

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Hell:

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Judgment:

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Heaven:

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Here is the “Trinity, Crucifix and Frieze of Angels.”

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There’s 17 in the series, and they’re more impressive in person, though the sight angle from the floor is a challenge.

Onward.  Another wing has an exhibit reflecting maps of Boston from the Revolution to Independence.  Here’s a token inked example, cropped up close.  There were others of interest, but the glare from windows made viewing a challenge.

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And, just to keep people’s interest, they also had maps of Middle Earth, Dante’s Inferno, England, a census map from 1860 of the Southern States, Cape Cod (complete with Sea Serpent), Discworld (based on the fantasy novels of Terry Pratchett), Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood, and a Mystery Map based on Sherlock Holmes, among others.

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That’s worth a closer look, right?

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The Boston Public Library (and it’s branches) are the 2nd largest library in the U.S., second only to the Library of Congress, with over 23 million books, etc.  Despite the name on the place, they do a very fine job of keeping these hidden.  We did find some, as well as CDs, on the top floor, the heights of which are begging for an artist’s touch.

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That’s not a happy ending note, so here’s a picture of the courtyard, which was unexpected…

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…and at least one satisfied resident.

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Cambridge Brewing

Well, this was a disappointment.  It’s not the brewery’s fault.  Cambridge Brewing enjoys a fine reputation and makes very good beers which are available in Georgia.  So, while visiting my daughter, who lives in Cambridge, this visit seemed obvious.  The brewery is located in an unlikely location for a company that brews and bottles.  A bank is located in the same building, and two restaurants are adjacent.  But, it’s Cambridge, an expensive, densely packed zip code.  So, you put a brewery where you can.

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Only, I’m looking at things backwards, from the standpoint of someone who expects, on whatever scale, a priority towards production (but still craft) brewing.  This is a brewpub, one that somewhere along the way decided to start distributing its beers more formally.  On a Saturday night, it’s busy enough that you can’t hear yourself think, due mainly to the normal din of people enjoying dinner in a room ill equipped to absorb sound.   Sure, there’s a formal bar, and a chalkboard shows the daily brew.  There are even a couple of view panels to observe into the production space.  But, if you want to learn anything about the brewery or its beers, you have to ask.

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That’s not unreasonable, only, everyone available for asking is focused on serving food, hurriedly.  Hey, it was a crowed place, at peak hours.  It looked kind of like their mural, which includes celebrities with a connection to the Boston area as well as their patrons and staff.  Jimmy Fallon, Ben Affleck, Bill Murray, Neil Degrasse Tyson… though, beer in hand or not, I’m not sure where Obama resides in local lore.

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Here’s a glimpse of the brewery, perhaps indicating why there’s no mention of tours.

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A bit clearer view.

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So, I sampled the Charles River Porter (solid), Red God (double red ale with 7 hop varieties), and Mahatma Blondhi Belgian Blonde.  Each good.  And I’d rather drink each one from one of their bombers or in a bar with beer enthusiasts.  Or, theirs, at a quieter time.

Town Hall Brewery

Some of my brewery visits aren’t what I would hope.  Town Hall Brewing, in Minneapolis, is one of those.  Part of the issue is from the perspective of living in Georgia, where breweries are severely restricted by what they can serve or sell.  So, they conduct “tours” or “tastings” to bring people in, but without food.  Still, you meet, usually, with the owners or brewers who can tell their unique story and add some character to the brand.

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Maybe it’s the naming.  Town Hall is a brewpub, not a brewery, at least from what I can discover.  You can buy draft beers and get a growler filled, but they don’t appear to distribute their product.  That’s fine.  They’re located in a once-hip-now-hip-again area supported by University of Minnesota students, and their business model seems to be working, as evidenced by a recent investment in their bar area resulting in a very fine interior space.

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They have the usual assortment of souvenirs, with good graphic tastes.

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The food was also very good (Walleye tacos).  And, now, finally, the beer.  There’s a lot to like about the way they do their business.  They have a standard set of beers and add seasonal varieties fairly regularly.  They also provide beers from other breweries on a rotating basis.  If you live in the area, this results in a good variety of choices and a great place to dine out.

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If you’re an out-of-towner… well, you have to appreciate the good, but the brewery (I know, boring stainless steel vats) is all but hidden from view, and there’s really no effort made outside of special events to educate or inform guests about what they do.  The beer may as well come from anywhere (anywhere being defined as by any other craft brewery).

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So, I tried the Masala Mama IPA, my favorite style.  Good.  Very drinkable.  Not great (despite a local following that rates it at 96 on BeerAdvocate).  Not bad by any means, either.  It’s another in a long line of faceless IPAs that can be had anywhere by most local breweries for people that want to drink local beer. They  had other beers of interest, but… 

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… the guest beers steered me away.  The Surly Bender, aged in an oak barrel, was a good ale, but disappointing overall.  However, Hopulent, by Epic Brewing, was the clear winner of the day, a fine IPA.  I would have taken a picture but… my phone died.  If I lived in the area or if I was a nearby student, I’d be all over this place.  It was worth the visit, but trips there are infrequent, and there are too many other brews to sample.

Also, kudos to a clever website, but, please, silence is better than crowd noise.

The Waterboys – Modern Blues

It helps, sometimes, to hear songs in concert that you haven’t “lived with” since their official release.  In the case of this CD, they were separated by just twelve days.  There is so much that I like about Mike Scott’s music that I optimistically hope he’ll put it all together into one great album, then suffer the consequences of high expectations.  The same, unfortunately, is found in Modern Blues.  I’ll had the hope had risen a bit higher as Scott, who usually records in the U.K.,  returned to the U.S. to record this CD, which only, cough, 18 years ago, mthe waterboys modern blues cd revieway have played some role in Still Burning, a perfect CD to my ears.

The CD begins with “Destinies Entwined,” a common Scott theme of the search for God that settles for mysticism of the inner god.  It’s a good song, but it doesn’t cover any new ground, sounds as sophomoric as it seems, and as pleasing as it sounds, doesn’t beg for physical or virtual repeat spins.  “November Tale” follows with the same theme, far more imaginatively and in the context of a relationship with a woman whose beliefs doom the allure of the relationship.

She with her church and code, her extravagant beliefs
me a creature of the road, a child of dust and grief

Both of those songs are of one style – a very carefully chosen prose that carries his themes, diction, and wit.  “Still a Freak” is not that.  It’s a failed or incomplete attempt to make a case for people who revel in their place outside the mainstream, relegated to throw away rocker song, i.e. album filler and/or an excuse to play loud in concert.

“I Can See Elvis” is almost insufferable if it weren’t for a decent tune. Scott chose Nashville to record this CD, and this song sounds like an obligatory name-dropping of icons, wherever they may be, regardless of his stated inspiration for this when discussing after death experiences with someone.  Good humor rebounds with “The Girl Who Slept for Scotland.”  This song is conflicted.  It’s very cleverly written and concerns a former girlfriend who apparently was a beast to wake up in the mornings.  It’s a great song, except for the  refrain, which includes the song’s title without helpful context.  The inspiration was that she could represent Scotland were their an Olympic competition for sleeping.  That’s quite funny, but the cheering crowd noise, even if understood, comes off as a bad joke after it’s first heard. 

Another familiar Scott theme is relationships that are not to be.  “Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)” is thus aptly titled.

Down the misty Avenue, through the city fog
I saw you promenading like the Princess and the frog
Some us are volunteers, some were pressed
But what are you doing in that cuckoo’s nest?

Ah, lyrics like that make the wait worthwhile.

“Beautiful Now” is the only song from the CD that he/they didn’t play in concert.  It’s a remembrance of a love who appears to him in a dream as an angel, thus more beautiful now.  I’m not sure it belongs in a concert, but it’s a pretty song and would appeal to those caught in his mystical musings.  Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t favor “sh*thole” in a song.  That, and another song title that makes for an awkward refrain, prevents this song from being great.  Otherwise, it’s a witty prose about the passings of cool places… like CD stores.

The finale, “Long Strange Golden Road,” is the rocker.  It highlights the musical aspects that make his rock songs (a distinct category) really work when he chooses to employ them – strong guitar leads, Steve Wickham’s fuzz fiddle – paired with his trademark lyrical penchant for taking a usual theme – a broken relationship – and depicting it in interesting ways.

Overall, Modern Blues includes some fine songwriting, but it plays like Scott was rushed and had to force the refrains.  Similarly, the music is, in most places, only okay.  Musically, the song structures are simple, like demos that most artists would have  recognized as a starting point.  Rather than pushing them forward into something better, he and the band settled for dressing them up.   Kind of sad.

3 of 5 STARS_thumb