Monday, October 05, 2009

A Welcome Visitor

My brother came to Boston for a visit this past weekend.

The timing of his visit was a result of the Boston College-Florida State football game.

My brother is not a fan of Boston College or Florida State, but he likes to attend college football games at different venues. Until this past weekend, he had never attended a game at Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, and Alumni Stadium had been on his list of stadiums to visit for years.

In late summer, my brother had examined Boston College’s home schedule and he had decided that the Boston College-Florida State match-up would be the only Boston College home game worth attending this season—and he had asked Joshua and me to get tickets for the game.

Alas for my brother, the Boston College-Florida State game was scheduled for the same weekend as the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, to be played in Minneapolis this year. The Minnesota-Wisconsin game is a rivalry game, and has been a rivalry game for over 100 years, and I was surprised that my brother could be tempted to miss a key game for the Golden Gophers.

However, my brother had elected to skip the Minnesota-Wisconsin game. He had decided that he would rather spend the weekend in Boston, and leave the Golden Gophers to fend for themselves against the Badgers, without his presence.

Minnesota has a new football stadium this year, and my father and my brothers have already attended the first two home games in the new facility. They saw the Golden Gophers beat Air Force (rather unimpressively) and lose to California (rather badly). However, those two games may be the only games of the season they will attend.

The new stadium is apparently very handsome and very impressive. As a sporting facility, it has been very well-received by fans and the public alike.

The cost of the stadium (borne by Minnesota taxpayers) was an outrage: $288 million. The cost of the scoreboard—more than $9 million—was particularly an outrage.

No other State in the Union would be so foolish as to throw away $300 million on a college football stadium to be used no more than six times a year by a mediocre college football program whose most recent Big Ten football championship occurred long before I was born and whose brief era as a college football power ended long before my father was born.

Further, a sting has been attached to the new stadium, a sting that makes attending Golden Gophers games much less pleasant for sports fans than past seasons: Saturday afternoon football games have been replaced by Saturday morning football games.

It seems that no one likes the change.

At the new stadium, starting times for all Golden Gophers games (other than two night games) have been advanced to 11:00 a.m., a ridiculously early hour for big-time college football contests. To be assured of getting to the games on time (fighting traffic and dealing with parking bollixes), my father and my brothers must leave Edina by 8:30 a.m., far earlier than they would like.

They are not fans of the early starts. “Going to a Gophers game now is no different than going to work on a regular weekday morning, and the drive to the stadium is no different than a regular weekday commute downtown—except that traffic is far worse on game days than it ever is on a weekday” according to my father.

Most fans, including my father and my brothers, would be much happier with traditional 2:00 p.m. kickoffs. A morning game simply does not have the same appeal.

The Minnesota-California game featured an 11:00 a.m. start, and it seemed awkward to my father and my brothers. They hated it. In fact, they hated it so much that they may not return for another game this season. (The Minnesota-Air Force game had been a night game, and my father and my brothers had enjoyed the night game much more than the morning game.)

Josh and I were delighted to host my brother for a weekend in Boston. If he preferred watching Boston College-Florida State instead of Minnesota-Wisconsin, we were very happy to have him as a guest. He is great company.

My brother flew in Thursday night. He had taken a late-afternoon flight from MSP that arrived in Boston at 7:15 p.m., and Josh and I were waiting at Logan to retrieve him and bring him home.

We did nothing on Thursday night except talk and eat.

Indeed, we started eating practically the very minute we returned home, since I knew my brother would be hungry.

I had prepared my mother’s Dutch Chowder on Wednesday night, which must be chilled for 24 hours before being reheated and served. We heated and ate Dutch Chowder to ward off any immediate hunger pangs before we got genuine dinner preparations underway.

My brother decided that he wanted oven-fried chicken for dinner. While the chicken was cooking, we ate cheeses and crackers. We followed the cheeses and crackers with a garden salad heavy on shredded tomatoes, sliced radishes, chipped cucumbers, diced green peppers, shredded carrots and croutons. We ate the oven-fried chicken with butter noodles (from a package), white corn, lima beans and a cranberry salad. For dessert, we had vanilla pudding and Pepperidge Farm pirouette cookies. It was nothing special for a welcome dinner, but it was what my brother wanted.

We stayed up very late, talking, but we had to end things at 1:00 a.m. because we all had to get up early the next morning.

I had to go to work for much of Friday, and Josh had classes. To occupy Friday morning, my brother had decided, in advance, to spend the morning visiting the Museum Of Science and to arrive at the Museum by 9:00 a.m., when it opened for the day. It is the only Boston museum that opens early, probably because of morning visits by school groups.

Consequently, we all got up at 6:15 a.m. Friday morning, cleaned up, had coffee, grapefruit, cereal and raisin bread toast, and were out the door minutes after 8:00 a.m., each of us going our separate ways, with plans to meet back at our apartment at 2:00 p.m.

My brother was not impressed with the Museum Of Science. He said it was not worth the $20.00 admission fee, and he was offended that separate (and steep) admissions were required to visit the Museum’s most popular exhibits such as the planetarium and IMAX. He said the Museum Of Science reminded him of our visit back in January to the New England Aquarium, which also had involved a hefty admission fee and which also had not been worth the required admission.

When we gathered back at the apartment, we had lunch—and our lunch was breakfast, because breakfast foods were what we most wanted to eat. We had bacon and scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, toast, orange juice and cranberry juice.

When we were done eating, we drove to Watertown and explored Watertown for a couple of hours. Watertown is not a particularly interesting town, but we had theater tickets for New Repertory Theater Company’s evening performance, and we had wanted to be in Watertown long before rush hour began, with plenty of time to walk around, have a leisurely dinner, and arrive at the theater with time to spare.

Dinner was the best part of our trip to Watertown. We dined at an Italian restaurant especially recommended by my boss, who is an expert restaurant guide. The restaurant indeed proved to be truly exceptional. Dinner alone made the trip to Watertown worthwhile.

We all ordered what my boss, in advance, had recommended that we order. He and his wife visit the restaurant every couple of months, and he had identified for us the menu items that were “not to be missed”.

We started with a warm tomato salad, which was heavenly. We continued with fried oysters with lime, which also were exceptional. Our main course was Eggplant Parmesan Lasagna, which was exactly what it sounds like: a hybrid of Eggplant Parmesan and Lasagna. We found the Eggplant Parmesan Lasagna to be slightly disappointing (but it is possible that our expectations were too high to be fulfilled). We were not disappointed in our dessert: chocolate cake with cream, raspberries and whipped cream.

The restaurant was practically empty all during dinner. We were surprised that business was not better on a Friday evening.

The problem must be the weak macro economy (and certainly not the food). The restaurant was sort of expensive—the tomato salads, alone, cost $14.00 each—and many people are no doubt reluctant to toss that kind of money around at present.

For us, it was a one-time event, a special treat for my brother as part of an afternoon and evening out. We enjoyed a good dinner, but I doubt we shall ever return.

Our visit to New Repertory Theater WAS a return visit. We had attended a performance at New Repertory Theater once before, back in January, when Josh and I had taken my brother to see the company’s presentation of the Kander and Ebb musical, “Cabaret”, during his visit at the beginning of the year.

On Friday night, Thomas Heggen’s and Joshua Logan’s “Mister Roberts” was on the bill.

None of us had ever seen a production of this 1948 play, seldom revived now. None of us had ever seen the movie, either. “Mister Roberts” was uncharted territory for us.

The play has not held up. It is very dated—slow-moving and cut from a manufactured pattern, with a particularly gruesome exposition that goes on forever—and not very witty and not very good. It is hard to believe now that audiences thought “Mister Roberts” was a good play sixty years ago.

The New Repertory Theater production did the material no favors. It was a low-quality production, borderline inept. The cast members were shockingly uneven. The stage set—representing the walkways of a ship—made noises all night, sounding like it was going to fall apart any minute.

We had to laugh at the clumsiness of it all—but the clumsiness somehow added to our enjoyment of the evening.

We were hungry again when we got home, so I made a small pan of gingerbread, very easy and very quick to make. We ate warm gingerbread with fresh peaches and cream before we went to bed.

Saturday was game day. The game was not scheduled to start until 3:30 p.m., meaning that we had several free hours before we had to depart for the game.

Josh and I allowed my brother to decide how we would spend the morning and early afternoon. We thought he might like to take a walk through some of Boston’s old neighborhoods, or visit the Harvard campus, or visit the M.I.T. campus, or visit a museum.

He elected to stay home.

Because Saturday morning and early Saturday afternoon were the only portions of the weekend we had not already scheduled, he said he wanted to stay in.

That was fine with Josh and me.

We had a big breakfast that stretched over two hours. We started with cereal, after which I made nut bread. While the nut bread was baking, we ate strawberries and cream. Once the nut bread was done and slightly cooled, we ate bananas and nut bread. We finished things up with ham-and-cheese omelets, hash brown potatoes and fruit juices.

We stayed in the rest of the morning, reading newspapers and catching up on things.

At 1:00 p.m., we heated the Dutch Chowder for a quick lunch, and at 1:45 p.m. we headed out the door. We like to get to football games early in order to watch the pre-game on-field festivities and ceremonies.

Alumni Stadium is not large. It holds only 45,000 fans, making it one of the smallest stadiums in America. It is an old stadium, obviously refurbished and enlarged over the years but still in need of much work. It is not one of the more handsome or notable college football venues. Alumni Stadium pales when compared to the storied stadiums of the Big Ten Conference, against which it measures as small potatoes.

Nevertheless, we were pleased to have experienced a game at Alumni Stadium. We had a very enjoyable afternoon.

Even though we were indifferent about which team won the game, the game turned out to be very close. After Florida State got off to a 3-0 start, Boston College scored the next 21 points and the game appeared to be over. However, Florida State scored the next 18 points to tie the game. With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Boston College scored a touchdown and won the game, 28-21. We got our money’s worth.

(Back in Minneapolis, Minnesota lost to Wisconsin for the sixth consecutive time. The score was 31-28, but the game was not as close as the final score would suggest—Minnesota scored a very late touchdown after the game had already been decided. I think my brother was present at the better of the two games. He had made a good choice.)

After the game, we stopped and had dinner on our way home.

We chose a Legal Sea Foods restaurant since it seemed to Josh and me de rigueur to take my brother to at least one seafood restaurant during his visit to a city known for its seafood.

In January, we had taken him to McCormick And Schmick’s, which in hindsight probably made no sense, since there are McCormick And Schmick’s restaurants in Minneapolis, too.

Legal Sea Foods was a more logical choice. There are no Legal Sea Foods restaurants in the Twin Cities—although I understand that there used to be Legal Sea Foods restaurants in Minneapolis many years ago, before the firm retrenched—and we thought my brother might enjoy a meal at Legal Sea Foods.

The food was good.

We started with New England Fried Clams, and they were very good. We followed the clams with New England Clam Chowder, which was nothing special. Our salad was avocado-apple-goat cheese-peppers, and it was excellent. Our main course was Baked Boston Scrod. The scrod was exceptional. We had Boston Cream Pie for dessert.

Throughout dinner, the waiter kept encouraging us to order liquor. It must be company policy at Legal Sea Foods for firm personnel to push alcohol on diners. Every single time the waiter approached our table, he suggested that we order spirits. He was rather insistent about it, not wanting to take “No” for an answer. We thought, after six or so trips to our table, that the waiter would get the message. He did not.

When we got back to the apartment, we caught up on the day’s scores and talked to my parents on the telephone to let them know that my brother was comfortable and in good hands, enjoying Boston (and being fed). We heard all about the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, which my father had watched on television, and my parents heard all about the Boston College-Florida State game.

We also found time to eat ice cream and raspberries, with chocolate-walnut cookies on the side (from a bakery).

On Sunday morning, we were in no hurry to get the day started. We hung around the apartment until late morning, reading the newspapers and eating a big—and extended—breakfast. We had fruit, and we had Eggs Benedict, and we had buttermilk pancakes and sausages, too. Our breakfast was also to serve as our lunch.

At 11:00 a.m., we left for the Museum Of Fine Arts, where we were to view the antiquities collections.

We examined the Egyptian, Greek, Near East and Etruscan antiquities on the ground floor, and the Egyptian, Greek, Near East and Roman antiquities on the upper floor. The Museum Of Fine Arts has first-class antiquities collections, and we very much enjoyed visiting the collections.

From the Museum Of Fine Arts, we proceeded to The Lyric Stage Company Of Boston to attend the matinee performance of the Cole Porter musical, “Kiss Me, Kate”, another theater work written and first performed in 1948.

Like “Mister Roberts”, none of us had seen either a staging of the musical or the film adaptation.

I wish that still were true. It was a very long afternoon.

I am not confident that “Kiss Me, Kate” warrants revival.

The book is unending, long enough to constitute a full-length play in its own right. The Lyric Stage Company performance was “complete”, not trimming the dialogue as is customary today (on the contrary, the book used on Sunday was longer than the original—jarring “contemporary” references had been inserted into the book).

I do not warm to Cole Porter’s music, and the score for “Kiss Me, Kate” has always struck me as one of Porter’s least interesting efforts, certainly not as fine as “Anything Goes” and probably a step below even “Silk Stockings” and “Can-Can”.

The production was appalling.

The cast members were unattractive and largely untalented, the stage design and costume design and lighting design fully worthy of civic theater in Fargo, North Dakota, and the whole enterprise seedy beyond description. However can The Wall Street Journal have given this production a favorable write-up? We sat, comatose, throughout the entire performance, praying for someone to come onstage and inform the audience of a gas leak and insist that the auditorium be immediately evacuated.

This was our third—and final—visit to The Lyric Stage Company Of Boston.

In January, Josh and I had taken my brother to Lyric Stage Company to see “The Year Of Magical Thinking”, which was pretty awful. We had vowed, after that performance, never to return to the theater.

Against our better judgment, Josh and I had returned to Lyric Stage Company in March to catch a staging of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. After that performance, Josh and I had promised ourselves that we could never be enticed back to Lyric Stage Company.

Why did we give the company a third chance? We were curious to see a staging of “Kiss Me, Kate”, and The Wall Street Journal notice had given us some hope that the production might be worthwhile.

It was not.

Boston is very definitely NOT a theater town.

After “Kiss Me, Kate”, we returned home, and cooked and talked for the remainder of the evening.

We gave my brother a very good dinner for his last night in Boston.

We started with grilled salmon and seasoned brown rice and steamed broccoli and carrots. A couple of hours later, we continued with grilled steak, seasoned French-fried potatoes, and steamed green beans with almonds. We ended with floating island a la orange, which is fairly easy to make (but does not always turn out, at least when I attempt it).

I think my brother enjoyed the dinner—and I believe he enjoyed his weekend in Boston. He was able to get away for a long weekend, and see and do a few interesting things, all without losing any rest. The weekend accomplished its purpose.

We rose at 3:15 a.m. this morning because we had to deliver my brother to Logan no later than 5:00 a.m. in order for him to catch the first flight of the day to Minneapolis.

The flight was on time and, because of the time difference, my brother was back in his office in Minneapolis only a few minutes past 9:00 a.m. local time.

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