The Latest Local/Focus of the Tremont Street Window Displays the Wonders of Coding and Technology Available at the South End Technology Center and its Sibling, the Fab/Lab

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THE SOUTH END TECHNOLOGY CENTER/FAB LAB is the brainchild of longtime South End community activist, Mel King. The former state legislator and mayoral candidate founded SETC in the late 1990s together with the Tent City Corporation and MIT, where King was an adjunct professor. SETC’s mission is to enable all young Bostonians to become “producers of knowledge and sharers of ideas and information.” SETC provides free or low-cost access and training in most aspects of computer-related technology with volunteer staff highly skilled in computer technology and its applications. 

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Located at 395 Columbus Avenue at the corner of Yarmouth Street, SETC serves 900 children and adults each year. It offers numerous opportunities to people of all ages, including Open Access to computers and internet; Technology education; Free wireless internet service to residents; an Audio Recording studio; Information on how to use a flatbed scanner, a digital camera, and how to burn CDs and DVDs; a Youth Media Producers program; a Fab Lab Inventer Lounge stocked with laser & vinyl cutters, a milling machine, a 3D printer, a CAD embroidery machine; and free tutoring by appointment, among other services. The Center is supported by foundation grants and individual contributions. It is open to the public Monday thru Thursday, 5 PM to 8 PM; Friday 4 PM to 6 PM; and Saturday 1 PM to 4 PM.  For more information, please contact Susan Klimczak at klimczaksusan@gmail.com or by phone at  SETC at 617.578.0597 or cell 617.817.2877.

Local/Focus is a program sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to connect the South End branch of the BPL with local artists, non-profit institutions and creative entrepreneurs through informative and interesting installations in the library’s Tremont Street window(s).

 

Megan Marshall's Acclaimed Biography/Memoir, "Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast," Illuminates the Sestina, a Poetic Measure Used by Marshall in the Biography and by Bishop in her Poems.

Acclaimed biographer Megan Marshall, who first visited the South End Writes in 2014 to read from her Pulitzer-prize-winning biography of Margaret Fuller, returned on May 8 to find a room full of Southenders eager to hear all about her most recent, and widely praised, biography, Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast.  She was introduced by her colleague, author Joan Wickersham, who described Marshall  as a "peerless biographer who does meticulous scholarly research so that you, as a reader, get to know her subject deeply." 

Marshall, who also wrote The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and winner of several other awards prestigious awards, had been accepted in 1976 in Elizabeth Bishop's last verse-writing class before the poet died, in 1979 at age 68. Bishop also had been a guest speaker in a Robert Lowell poetry workshop Marshall had attended in the early 1970s when she had hoped to become a poet herself. By that time, Bishop had been the Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress in 1949-1950, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956, the National Book Award in 1970, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976.

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The personal connection provided Marshall with the opportunity to innovate the biography of Bishop by interspersing it with her own memoirs, in short sections, as she moves through the biography, said Wickersham. "It is a meditation on how we know another person," she commented. "The memoir part is about Marshall NOT knowing Bishop because, in life, you know people by their role, but not the real stuff. After reading this book, I really knew Bishop."

Wickersham noted the structure of the Bishop biography echoes the sestina, a French poetry measure dating to the 12th century. It consists of six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, and uses six particular words in a certain pattern. This is a form Bishop used in, among other poems, A Miracle for Breakfast, with the words Balcony, Crumb, Coffee, River, Miracle and Sun. Marshall took those very words to name the six chapters in the biography, using the sestina's poetic form, "to tell the story about the poet," as Wickersham put it. 

  Author Joan Wickersham introducing biographer Megan Marshall

Author Joan Wickersham introducing biographer Megan Marshall

Bishop wrote both poetry and short stories, many of them published in The New Yorker,; since she produced only 100 poems, Marshall confessed she had thought hers would be "a short biography."  But in 2011, archives no one knew existed suddenly became available after Bishop's last partner, Alice Methfessel, died. It Included letters of passionate love between Methfessel and Bishop, as well as four letters Bishop wrote to her psychoanalyst, Ruth Foster.  “So the book became longer,” Marshall said. And darker.

The archives threw a new light on Bishop's harrowing childhood: her father's early death; her mother's confinement and death in an insane asylum; the molestation by an uncle. Bishop was raised by a succession of relatives in Great Village, Nova Scotia, and Worcester and Revere, MA. She attended Saugus High School, then Walnut Hill School in Natick and Vassar College in New York. Her well-to-do Bishop grandparents (their contracting company built the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Public Library) provided her with a financial stipend and paid for the custodial care offered by her mother's sisters in Revere.

  Prize-winning biographer Megan Marshall speaking to admirers at the South End library

Prize-winning biographer Megan Marshall speaking to admirers at the South End library

Bishop was plagued by shyness, asthma, alcoholism, and a deep frustration that her poems took so long to produce. Marshall speculates the drinking bouts were perhaps a desire for oblivion over the pain caused by the tragic separation from her mother. A get-together her father's relative once had organized for her was so traumatic to even contemplate that Bishop fled. But in January 1977, Marshall and a few other students were invited by Bishop to a party at her home on Lewis Wharf in Boston“Bishop was shy but had parties for friends," Marshal said. "The condo overlooked the harbor where, once "her great-grandfather may have landed." 

Bishop did not see her love for women as problematic, nor, Marshal said, did her analyst, Ruth Foster. She even lived as a married couple in Brazil for more than a decade with the architect, Lota de Macedo Soares. "Bishop found ways to live near, or with, her lovers. She lived as she chose," said Marshall, 'but even though gay liberation had begun in the 1970s, neither she nor her later partner, Alice, were ever really 'out.'"

“There are always things I can identify with,” Marshall said of the subjects of her biographies. “Bishop’s unruly hair reminded me of an elementary school report I received where the teacher asked, 'Can’t Megan ever comb her hair?' And I did not know until I began to research the book that Bishop was interested in Early Music," she added, revealing she studied piano and harpsichord for many years herself.

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Marshall, who is currently exploring the women in the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, was asked what question she'd have for Elizabeth Bishop, if she were alive today. Marshall wondered about the letters to her analyst: Why did she write them? Were they ever sent? Did the analyst ask her to? Reading them, Marshall said, "was as if I was sitting in on the sessions.”  

Author William Kuhn, Presenting his Light-hearted Coming-of-age Novel, "Prince Harry Boy to Man", Suggests a Monarchy Can be a Unifying and Positive Factor in a --Usually Contentious-- Democracy

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Explaining the different strands in his life that led to his having become a tongue-in-cheek chronicler of the British monarchy, author William Kuhn told the audience at the South End library on April 10 that he could think of three: Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, as the 'typical Midwestern kid starved for glamour;' being the son of an Ohio State English professor who took the family to London for a sabbatical when he and his brother Fritz were still boys; and watching the opening of the British Parliament and suddenly wondering what exactly the role of a monarchy was in a modern industrial democracy. 

"Some of my rivals had concluded it was an invented system meant to keep the proletariat down," he said. "But I came to the opinion that in a contentious democracy, a monarchy could be unifying and positive factor, albeit with a comic dimension." Starting out doing scholarly research, Kuhn subsequently wrote  biographies about 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (The Politics of Pleasure: A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli) and Jackie Kennedy Onassis (Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books). His continuing interest in the British monarchy, including its comic dimension, resulted in Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, which became a bestseller that was optioned to be a motion picture.

"By Harvey Weinstein," Kuhn said ruefully. "The option expired."

The novel posited Queen Elizabeth, depressed after the death of Princess Diane, walking out of Buckingham Palace and taking the train to Scotland by herself, chased by a group of unlikely courtiers. "It took about eight months to write," commented Kuhn, "but it was more successful than anything else I'd spent much more time on until then." Having done research in the Windsor archives, he was invited to the Buckingham Palace Christmas party, where he met Princess Diane. "She looked more spectacular than ever," Kuhn recalled, "with a beautiful red dress and red silk shoes. My academic colleagues would say, 'power to the people' but I said, 'yes, but did you see Princess Diane?'"

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Researching Prince Harry Boy to Man, Kuhn saw that there were early indications of the rebellious personality of Prince Harry, which he illustrated with a picture in the accompanying slide show of toddler Harry sticking out his tongue to the photographer, while in his mother's arms. Unlike his older brother William, Harry was not a distinguished student and went straight into the army where he received officer’s training at Sandhurst. As second lieutenant, he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 but left within a few weeks after a UK media embargo on his time there was broken, which meant he could have become an enemy  target. He was redeployed there later.

"There were a number of taboo images circulated by his army buddies, Kuhn said. "He was obviously a sexy guy, which is why I wrote about him,” he added dryly. He noted a similarity between the portrayal of King Henry IV by actor Alex Hassell in an ArtsEmerson production, in the arc of "troubled kid caught wearing a nazi unform, kicking out windows at a party, and his general lack of maturity" but eventually growing up as part of the British army.  A segment of Prince Harry Boy to Man's dialogue was read by three event participants: FOSEL board member, Michael Cox; Kuhn's brother, Fritz; and writer Linda Markarian.

Answering audience questions, Kuhn said has not yet been invited to Harry’s wedding. Asked about his biography of Benjamin Disraeli (Benjamin Disraeli, The Politics of Pleasure), he said his interest in the 19th century British statesman, who became a Prime Minister, was piqued when he noticed the consistent homo-erotic themes in the politician's twelve books. His Jackie Kennedy Onassis biography (Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books) was inspired by an exhibit catalogue of her dresses, which led him to look into her twenty years as a book editor for Viking Publishing and Doubleday. Kuhn tracked down authors still alive today who had worked with her, all of whom praised her editing skills, and saying she had 'improved their work.'  

  In addition to presenting a slide show, author Kuhn had three friends read part of the dialogue from a chapter in   Prince Harry Boy to Man.  They included FOSEL board member, Michael Cox, Kuhn's brother, Fritz, and author Linda Markarian.

In addition to presenting a slide show, author Kuhn had three friends read part of the dialogue from a chapter in  Prince Harry Boy to Man. They included FOSEL board member, Michael Cox, Kuhn's brother, Fritz, and author Linda Markarian.

Kuhn, a South End resident, is currently working on two projects: one on (Lord) Byron;  the other about Tennessee Williams and Lilian Hellman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The South End Landmark District Commissioners Approved the Proposed Library Park Redesign; Construction to Start in June

On April 3, the South End Landmark District Commission approved a revised proposal for the redesign of  Library Park, as presented by the Boston Parks Department (see below). With their approval, came a compliment from the commissioners: "Thank you for having heard us," they told the Parks Department team. Construction is scheduled to start in June. 

At the previous presentation to the SELDC in January, project director Lauren Bryant was asked to come back with an amended proposal to include the commissioners' concerns about protection of the park's oak trees root systems, easy flow of foot traffic unimpeded by park furniture and an upgraded, more interesting hardscape that would include some details of typical South End materials like brick, slate or bluestone. The redesign of the redesign was different enough to require a second public hearing about Library Park's future, which was held at the South End library on March 22. The commissioners praised the more dynamic design and the care that was taken to protect the trees. 

  The proposed re-design for Library Park that was presented to the South End Landmark District Commission on Tuesday, April 3

The proposed re-design for Library Park that was presented to the South End Landmark District Commission on Tuesday, April 3

The March 22nd public hearing solicited a number of comments, including a request to create more intimate spaces through seating and paving areas. There was a question about what to do with the granite blocks that are a play opportunity for kids, but uncomfortable to sit on; a request to inset tables with game boards; and a concern that the seating feels restrictive given that it lines both sides of the plaza. The single chairs of the current park appear to be in good shape and will be re-used and matched in style with additional curved benches, cafe tables and chairs. The oak trees will be pruned.

A large part of the work will be devoted to improving the park's infrastructure, including the clean-up of the site, underneath which there is expected to be a great deal of remnants from previous housing, including oil tanks and a lot of bricks. The soil will be improved and re-graded to enhance future landscaping. Another important aspect of the reconstruction will be groundwater management and water filtration to benefit root systems of trees, shrubs and plantings.  

At the first public hearing in November last year, Parks Department's Bryant and Brandon Kunkel, landscape architect with the Weston & Sampson design and engineering firm, presented attendees with three proposals. The one below was favored by the audience and was presented to Landmarks in January, but has been altered to comply with Landmarks's comments.  

  The re-design of Library Park proposed in January but not accepted by South End Landmark commissioners concerned about root system protection, foot traffic flow and the quality of the concrete hardscape.

The re-design of Library Park proposed in January but not accepted by South End Landmark commissioners concerned about root system protection, foot traffic flow and the quality of the concrete hardscape.

After deducting the cost of design services, the remaining budget for the reconfiguration is $115,000, a small amount, which will be augmented with private fundraising efforts by the Friends of the South End Library until a more comprehensive renovation of library and park will take place in the next few years. Further information about the current project can be obtained at the Parks Department website, linked here.

 

State Rep Byron Rushing, in a Talk about his Political Career, Says the Most Gracious Thing in Our Politics is Finding Ways to "Be" in the "We"

In a room filled with admirers, friends and curious  constituents, State Representative Byron Rushing reflected about his life as a social justice activist and politician in the Massachusetts State House, in a talk called My Life and Debt in the Massachusetts State House.  The legislator quickly described himself as one of a select group of politicians, paid by constituents to represent them fairly. But “we are all politicians,” Rushing declared, though not necessarily paid. When teenagers succeed in convincing their parents to have a later curfew, they engage politically to get a rule changed. Changing rules or making new ones is all part of being politically active. 

Rushing, who is up for reelection this November after 35 years in the Massachusetts House,   said that what he engages in for his constituents comes out of his "understanding of who is in the 'we' of 'we the people.'"  "If John Quincy Adams was here today, he’d be very surprised to see me in the Massachusetts legislature," he said. "That is my 'debt' to all those who fought to be in the 'we,' and my guide to the politics I engage in."

As soon as the words "we, the people," were written down centuries ago, no one could agree on who “we” was, Rushing said. "When the Constitution was written, most of the adults in the US could not vote. People knew way back when that 'we' was not everybody. The most gracious thing in our politics is," said Rushing, "that people could find a way to be in the “we.”  Even though Thomas Jefferson owned and sexually abused people, he said, among them were those who heard the words, 'we the people' and figured out ways, as he put it, "to be the 'we'".

Rushing, currently the Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts State House, has represented the Ninth Suffolk district since 1983, succeeding the influential South End social justice activist, Mel King, who spoke at the South End library last year.  Rushing sponsored the law to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public schools, as well as the original gay rights bill in Massachusetts. He also led the effort for Massachusetts state pension funds to invest in the development of poor communities in the state, among many other efforts to promote equal justice in the state.

From 1972 to 1985, Rushing was president of the Museum of Afro-American History, when it purchased and began the restoration of the African Meeting House, the oldest  black church building in the United States. In 1979, Rushing oversaw the lobbying effort in Congress to establish the Boston African American National Historical Site, a component of the National Park Service. Byron led the Museum in the study of the history of Roxbury for which the Museum conducted the archaeological investigation of the Southwest Corridor for the MBTA. As a legislator he sponsored the creation of Roxbury Heritage State Park and occasionally leads walking tours of African American and working class neighborhoods in Boston and Roxbury. 

A graduate of Harvard College and MIT, Rushing is an elected deputy to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church; a founding member of the Episcopal Urban Caucus; and serves on the boards of the Episcopal Women's Caucus and the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice. His priorities are and have been human and civil rights and liberties; local human, economic and housing development; environmental justice and health care. 

In 2010, Rushing was appointed a trustee of the Boston Public Library by Mayor Thomas Menino, who was under fire at the time over his unfortunate attempt to close up to a third of the BPL branches. His appointment was seen by library advocates as a signal that, as long as Rushing was a BPL trustee, no libraries would be closed in Boston.

 

Lauren Prescott, the Dynamic New Leader of the South End Historical Society, Is Looking for Ways to Make the Organization a Vibrant Local Institution Relevant to All

Since she arrived in 2016 as the new executive director of the South End Historical Society, Lauren Prescott has immersed herself into projects that would make the organization broadly relevant to as many South-enders as possible. She is working on using social media to connect archived stories in the SEHS collection. She wants to enlarge the SEHS  oral history archives. She has agreed to install a Local/Focus display in the library's Tremont Street window with historical images of the South End on a continuous loop on a flat screen.

Judging from the standing-room only crowd that came to hear her present her first book and watch the slide show, Boston's South End, a Post Card History, Prescott may have succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. All the copies of the book she brought were sold. Many people had to leave for lack of space. And numerous  comments from the engaged audience made it clear that there is a large group of 'old-timers' living here whose memories and personal stories about growing up in the South End are needle sharp. "My father used to take me to the stables on Shawmut to see the horses," said one. "I got my first job at the First National Store where Foodies is now," said another. "There was a fudge room next to the library in the Franklin Square Hotel," reminisced a former occupant. 

 Lauren Prescott, executive director of the South End Historical Society, signing copies of  Boston's South End, a Postcard History,  at the South End Library

Lauren Prescott, executive director of the South End Historical Society, signing copies of Boston's South End, a Postcard History, at the South End Library

Prescott, who was born in New Bedford, MA, is a public historian who received a B.A. in History at UMass Amherst and M.A. in Public History at UMass Boston. She was introduced by one of the South End's three district councilors, Frank Baker, who told the audience that many of the postcards date from what is called “the golden age of postcards,” the period from the late 1890s into the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1905 alone seven billion postcards were mailed around the world. In 1907, the postcards’ popularity may have skyrocketed further after Congress passed an act to allow senders to use the left side of the back of postcards to write personal messages. Those were the days when, in a number of cities in the United States, there were up to seven mail deliveries a day; in New York City, nine. (In London, England, there were twelve.)

For an interview with Prescott by FOSEL board member Kim Clark, click here. 

 

BPL President David Leonard Helps Elect the New FOSEL Board, Praises the Public-Private Partnership with FOSEL to renovate the South End Library

At the January 30 Annual Meeting of Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL), BPL President David Leonard was among the audience that helped elect its new board. It now  consists of officers Marleen Nienhuis, president; Barbara Sommerfeld, treasurer; Kim Clark, clerk; and directors Gary Bailey, Marilyn Davillier, Maura Harrington. Licia Sky and Duncan Will. The Friends' advisory board members include Nick Altschuler, Liane Crawford, Susanna Coit, Michael Fox, Don Haber, Ed Hostetter, Gail Ide, Stephen Fox, Michelle Laboy, Jaqueline McRath, Jon Santiago, Anne Smart, Lois Russell and Karen Watson. Details and bios are available at the website's ABOUT page, linked here. 

  From left to right: board members Licia Sky, Don Haber, Maura Harrington, Michael Fox, Liane Crawford, Ed Hostetter, Jaqueline McGrath, Marleen Nienhuis, State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (not on the board), Kim Clark, Barbara Sommerfeld, Michelle Laboy and Marilyn Davillier and Chris Fagg( not a board member). Chris assists FOSEL in cleaning and raking Library Park. 

From left to right: board members Licia Sky, Don Haber, Maura Harrington, Michael Fox, Liane Crawford, Ed Hostetter, Jaqueline McGrath, Marleen Nienhuis, State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (not on the board), Kim Clark, Barbara Sommerfeld, Michelle Laboy and Marilyn Davillier and Chris Fagg( not a board member). Chris assists FOSEL in cleaning and raking Library Park. 

The BPL president, who was appointed president less than two years ago, praised the first-ever public-private partnership between the South End library's Friends group and the BPL to renovate a branch. He expressed enthusiasm for the other BPL branch renovations, including the recently completed ones in East Boston and Jamaica Plain, and those now underway at the Dudley branch in Roxbury and Lower Mills in Dorchester, among others. In addition, he was pleased to announce the opening of a temporary Chinatown branch at the China Trade Center on Essex Street on February 3 (a permanentChinatown library will be constructed on a yet-to-be-determined site). Its predecessor, the Tyler branch, was demolished in 1956 as part of urban renewal plans, more than six decades ago; the intervening years saw no library services in Chinatown at all.

Answering questions from the audience about the South End branch's improvements, Leonard said he expects the selection process for a designer for the Phase One renovation project to happen “within weeks.” It will include a public hearing for the community to comment on the proposed redesign for the downstairs interior. A South End resident himself, Leonard joked he had to be careful about what he said ("you know where I live"), but that the BPL has also requested funding for FY 2019 for a second, more comprehensive program study for additional renovation phases of the entire building at 685 Tremont Street. This study would typically take nine to 12 months to complete, at a cost of $75,000 to $120,000. He expects that the entire approval and construction process for such a comprehensive overhaul would take between three and five years.

Leonard said that he could make no specific guarantees for funding at this time because BPL funding is dependent upon City of Boston's budget priorities. "We are but one department in that organization," he said. Mayor Walsh had stated previously that he has allocated $100 million for library repairs and renovations for the next five years and, in the current fiscal year, has already spent $19 million on library projects. 

The Friends' capital campaign fundraising co-chair, Maura Harrington, reported that more than 200 contributions have been received so far, amounting to nearly $90,000. Of these, about half were donations for $100 or less and the other half for amounts of up to $10,000. Of the total, $50,000 has been allocated to the first phase of the planned renovation, which also includes $132,000 in public funding.

 

 

Urban studies author, Russ Lopez, fears an influx of 50,000 Amazon employees may displace thousands of Bostonians, as happened during the calamitous urban renewal days of the 1960s

  Author Russ Lopez, listening to newly elected Councilor Ed Flynn, who said he wanted to work hard for the library and would be there as a strong leader for the South End

Author Russ Lopez, listening to newly elected Councilor Ed Flynn, who said he wanted to work hard for the library and would be there as a strong leader for the South End

Russ Lopez, who came to the South End library in February to talk about his latest dive into Boston's history with, Boston 1945 - 2015: The Decline and Rise of a Great World City, told the audience that the best thing Boston did for its neighborhoods to preserve housing was 'linkage,' establishing affordable housing units as part of the development of luxury housing. But, he added, having grown up in Southern California and watched the impact of eBay, Netflicks and Apple on his family's neighborhoods, he feared that 50,000 new Amazon employees coming here threatened to displace as many people living in Boston now. "We don't have room for 50,000 wealthy residents," said Lopez. "Those 10,000 jobs require schools and 10,000 housing units." And Boston can't do it alone, he pointed out. The Federal government needs to step up to assist in building the infrastructure needed for new housing, including transportation and schools.

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Lopez was introduced by the South End's new District 2 Councilor, Ed Flynn, who said that one of the biggest challenges in the newest Boston district, the Seaport, is transportation. "I can't explain to people how to get to where they want to go," Flynn said. "If people want to relocate there, the question is 'what about public transportation?' There is no way for the workforce to get there." Lopez described the Seaport development as a 'massive failure of urban planning." He explained that the Seaport area was set up for the automobile as an industrial park, with big streets and big bocks for big buildings. By the time it was laid out under the Menino administration, there was no longer much demand for industrial use. Instead of revisiting and rethinking the original zoning, office and residential buildings were simply built on top of the industrial site plan. "It's pedestrian hostile, and a failure of lands and design," Lopez commented.

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Lopez, whose earlier work, Boston's South End: The Clash of Ideas in a Historic Neighborhood, focused on the disastrous impact on neighborhoods when urban planners ignore public processes, documents in his recent book how the apparent unstoppable downward spiral of Boston since the 1920s somehow righted itself into something new and vastly better. He maintains that Boston's business class was simply 'out of ideas.' There never was a 'roaring Twenties' in Boston, nor a 'baby boom,' Lopez recounted and a survey by the Brooking Institute in the late 1970s listed Boston as in worse shape than Detroit and Baltimore. But it somehow turned around because, Lopez said, 'everyone in Boston stayed.' Even during the catastrophic  conflicts over busing, mostly people stayed because they felt this is where they lived and wanted to make a stand. 

Lopez is an adjunct assistant professor in Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health and received his Master of City and Regional Planning degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He worked at the State House and City Hall for, among other people, Mayor Ray Flynn, the father of the current District 2 councilor, Ed. Lopez recalled that when Mayor Flynn asked him about his background, Lopez said he was Mexican, Italian and a little bit Irish. "You'll go far," Flynn said, "but the next time someone asks, say you're 'Irish, Italian and a little bit Mexican.'" 

 

The South End Historic District Commission Requests changes in the proposed Library park Redesign to reflect concerns about traffic flow, protection of trees and a more attractive pathway look

The Parks Department took its proposal for the redesign and upgrade of Library Park to the South End Historic District Commission (SEHDC) on Tuesday, January 2.  During the presentation before the Landmark commissioners, the Parks Department project managers were asked to adjust the proposed redesign to reflect commissioners' concerns about three issues. These included the location of a bench near the library entrance that might impinge on a easy flow of foot traffic; how to best  protect the root system of an oak tree near a proposed expanded patio between the library and the park; and how to enrich the proposed new concrete pathways by adding 'accents' in materials that are historically appropriate for the South End landmarks district, such as thermal bluestone, or brick. Commissioner John Amodeo pointed to an alley way between the South End's Cathedral gymnasium and its high school that featured such accents which, he suggested, made an otherwise dull concrete surface more interesting. The Parks Department will return with the changed proposal to SEHDC in the next few weeks.

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A previous public hearing on the proposal was held at the South End library on November 29, 2017 and attended by a small but very engaged group of local residents. At the November hearing, Parks Department's project manager, Lauren Bryant, and Brandon Kunkel, landscape architect with the Weston & Sampson design and engineering firm, presented attendees with three proposals for Library Park's overhaul. Two designs preserved the current layout of the park, while the third offered a different configuration. The latter was the one favored by the audience, and that is the one that was presented for review by the Parks Department. 

In the proposal, the deteriorated bluestone pavement will be replaced with a new one made of shaded concrete. In additionthe patio between the library and the park's entrance will be expanded to accommodate outdoor events; two garden circles will be established on the Tremont Street side of the park; and curved benches and to-be-determined seating arrangements will be included, together with substantial infrastructure improvements. After deducting the cost of design services, the remaining budget for the reconfiguration is $115,000. 

With public and SEHDC comments in mind, the Parks Department will produce a final design which is scheduled to be put out to bid sometime in February. Construction, weather permitting, will start in March. The park is scheduled to reopen in late summer. Further information can be obtained at the Parks Department website, linked here.

 

 

So you missed the December Local/Focus display by the Society of Art and Crafts in the Tremont Street window? Visit the best in American crafts on April 20-22 at the Cyclorama in the South End

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The Society of Arts and Crafts, which sponsored the twelfth holiday exhibit of juried crafts by artists from all over the country at the Hynes Convention Center from December 14 to 17, has installed a Local/Focus display in the South End library's Tremont Street window featuring some of the crafts for sale at the Hynes. So you missed it this fine display of American craft works? You have another chance this coming April 20 when the Society will have another spectacular show at the Cyclorama, just down the street from the South End library, on Tremont Street. 

The Society of Arts and Crafts dates from the end of the 19th century and is America's oldest arts and craft nonprofit organization. It was located for forty years on Newbury Street but moved last year to the Seaport District. The mission of the Society has been to "develop and encourage higher artistic standards in the handcrafts." Local/Focus is a project sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to connect local non-profits, creative entrepreneurs and artists to the branch library with installations in its Tremont Street window.

 

Deborah Madrey's Retirement Party Brought Tears, Madrey's Favorite Food, a Splendid Farewell Sheetcake, Tables Full of Gifts, and about 75 Well-wishers

 A large crowd of well-wishers filled the South end branch during the retirement reception for Deborah Madrey

A large crowd of well-wishers filled the South end branch during the retirement reception for Deborah Madrey

 The delicious sheet cake with Best Wishes for retiring library staffer, Deborah Madrey

The delicious sheet cake with Best Wishes for retiring library staffer, Deborah Madrey

The reception to send off longtime South End library staffer, Deborah Madrey into retirement next January brought so many well-wishers to the branch that food ran out within an hour and several tables were needed to hold many gifts. Madrey was quickly overcome by emotions and had to sit down for most of the event in the seating area, where she remained most of the time, surrounded by friends and paper handkerchiefs. 

  Deborah Madrey, receiving friends and well-wishers in the library's seating area

Deborah Madrey, receiving friends and well-wishers in the library's seating area

It remains uncertain who will take the place of Madrey, whose pronouncements over the years on the villains of the day --or as she refers to them, the 'you-know-whos'-- and the sports scene (specifically tennis and football) were always sought after by patrons who could not quite make up their minds as quickly on the same subjects. It is also not clear who will from here on out provide biscuits to the dogs who patiently waited outside for their owners to get their library materials checked in or out, or their opinions vetted. 

 One of several tables laden with farewell gifts for Deborah Madrey

One of several tables laden with farewell gifts for Deborah Madrey

Born and raised in Boston, Madrey attended church across the corner from West Newton and Tremont Streets. After obtaining a degree in Education from Emerson College, she spent 17 years as a public-school teacher in Los Angeles but returned to Boston in 1995 to join the staff at the South End library. She has observed many changes in the neighborhood and treasures the many friends she made at the branch. She is looking forward to retirement, hopes to travel, and would like to see libraries keep books and not go "all digital." 

Madrey saw most of the changes when computers arrived and when tapes and DVD’s became a “hot commodity,” so much so that she thinks libraries helped put Blockbuster out of business.  And, of course, she notes with some reservation the increasing availability of digital books for Kindles. But the biggest changes have been people's tastes in reading, she says. She recalls how popular V. C. Andrew was back then, especially the novel Petals on the Wind. She has not seen western novels and science fiction in a long while, noting, “Now they watch it more than they read it”. She recalls when urban fiction became very popular, with the work of Terry McMillan, which open the door for other black writers who became well known. 

 As she is known to hundreds, if not thousands, Deborah Madrey behind the circulation desk of the South End branch of the Boston Public Library

As she is known to hundreds, if not thousands, Deborah Madrey behind the circulation desk of the South End branch of the Boston Public Library

Madrey will be around until early January, and will gladly reminisce with any of her friends who have not yet the chance to say goodbye. Bring the Kleenex, bring the dog. Biscuits are still distributed from the box on the shelf behind the circulation desk..

 

 

Jody Adams, Award-winning Chef and Daughter of Two Librarians, Prepares a Delicious Campanelle with Slow-braised Tomatoes, Arugula Salad, and Meze Platters at the South End Library

  Award-winning chef Jody Adams cooking Campanelle at the South End library

Award-winning chef Jody Adams cooking Campanelle at the South End library

While the South End Writes author series has hosted culinary luminaries before (Chris Kimball, Joanne Chang, Gordon Hamersley), and some brought gifts from their kitchens (Kimball: cookbooks to sell to benefit the branch; Chang fabulous chocolate-chip cookies), none actually prepared a meal for library patrons at the South End branch until Jody Adams did so on December 5. The induction burners she brought to the beloved but outmoded branch had to be powered by extension cords, and one electrical circuit --dating from the 1970s-- quit altogether, but somehow a fabulous campanelle pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes was produced, accompanied by an arugula salad with shaved celery root, minced celery, baby kale and a champagne-based dressing topped with  Reggiano Parmesan cheese, the latter freshly ground by Adams's husband and partner, photographer Ken Rivard. The audience was thrilled.

  Adams's husband, photographer Ken Rivard, showing the audience the texture of the slow-braised tomato sauce

Adams's husband, photographer Ken Rivard, showing the audience the texture of the slow-braised tomato sauce

FOSEL board member, architect Michelle Laboy, who worked with Adams on several restaurant projects, described the Providence-born chef as a genuine and creative culinary star, dedicated not just to fabulous menus in expensive establishments but also as someone committed to working closely with local farmers and purveyors, using a finish carpenter from Pawtucket and a metalsmith from Western Massachusetts, for example. Adams, who ran Rialto restaurant in Cambridge for 22 years until it closed in 2016, was awarded four stars within months after it opened by the Boston Globe, is also dedicated to child advocacy and hunger relief organizations. She was made Humanitarian of the Year in 2010 by Share Our Strength, an organization engaged in fighting childhood hunger. "I cooked beautiful and expensive meals at Rialto," Adams said, "but it is important to recognize food is important for many people so I balance my work with my efforts at food banks and related organizations. It's scary to think you wouldn't have enough to eat so I am honored to do that work." 

  Jody Adams signing copies of her award-nominated cookbook,  In the Hands of a Chef.

Jody Adams signing copies of her award-nominated cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef.

Adams, who is currently is the chef-owner of Boston-based Porto, Trade and Saloniki (which has a second location in Cambridge),  met cooking pioneer Julia Child accidentally when she washed dishes for a fundraiser sponsored by Planned Parenthood. The daughter of two librarians (father at Brown University, mother in the Providence Public Library and later at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford), Adams had just quit her first career (as a nurse practitioner) and her first husband. Not having had a television in the family she grew up in, she had no idea who Child was but it was the start of her culinary career. She was hired by Lydia Shire at Seasons, where Gordon Hamersley was the sous-chef, and where she "burnt myself and cut myself" on the way to becoming a star chef herself. She opened up Hamersley's with Hamersley and his wife, Fiona. When she started at Rialto, Joanne Chang, of Flour, and now herself the owner --with her husband-- of a four-star restaurant, Myers & Chang, was her first pastry chef.  

  A first for the South End library: consuming a home-cooked meal by a celebrity chef

A first for the South End library: consuming a home-cooked meal by a celebrity chef

Adams described running restaurants as a "tough business," where navigating a very challenging labor market is critical. "A good manger is hard to find," she reflected. Creating a team that feels invested in their work environment requires her to spend a lot of time teaching her employees on the ins and outs of it, which she enjoys. "We are looking at educating our staff so they understand our business. We open our books to them so they know how their jobs have an impact on the business." In a competitive labor market, Adams says, "this is what sets us apart." 

 

Admired Boston Globe columnist and Time magazine bureau chief in Rome, Sam Allis, comments he can write non-fiction 'all day long' but writing his first novel was 'hard.'

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Former Boston Globe columnist Sam Allis was at the South End library on November 28 to talk about the genesis of his first novel, A Hero of Two Worlds, which he said he wrote for two reasons: he simply wanted to write a novel set in Italy where he had lived and worked as a journalist and Time bureau chief and he hoped that, after his 2011 retirement, having a clearly delineated project would keep him and his wife from going at each other with knives. He succeeded at both.

His wife was his first reader, he said, but was not nearly as forgiving and kind as author Doug Bauer, a longtime friend who introduced him at the library talk, or as the editor of a New York publishing house who loved the book but was unable to pick it up for publication. "They helped me hugely," Allis said. "My wife, when reading the first chapter, said 'no one's going to read this shit.'" But Allis ploughed ahead, doing an enormous amount of research in Boston on the large expatriate community of American (many from Boston) and British artists and intellectuals living in Rome in the early to mid-19th century. He read dozens of books about Roman history, and took courses on the subject at Harvard University. 

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"I could have written non-fiction all day long but it's true what they say about writing fiction," Allis commented: "It's hard." He could do it only four hours a day and found that writing dialogue was 'the hardest thing in the world.'  He also was not able to let his imagined characters go off and do their thing, wherever it might lead. "I needed to structure them," Allis recounted. He had lived in Rome for several stretches, with his family and as a working foreign reporter. His book's character, Rufus, was a sculptor caught up in the revolutionary fervor of Italy at the time. Italians wanted to unite the fractious collection of political fiefdoms, controlled by the Austrians, French, and other foreign interests, into one republic. That republic lasted for five months and Rufus married into an Italian family. After the deaths of his wife and son, he returned to the United States where he fought another war, this time to keep America from tearing apart in the Civil War. Based on his research Allis knew that in Rome at that time "there was a conversation between the Yankees and the Southerners" about the causes of the Civil War. Allis's hero was killed in the Battle of Little Round Top, where he had joined the Maine division and "died the way he wanted to, charging down a hill to face the enemy," Allis said.

Doug Bauer, the author of the award-winning collection What happens Next? Matters of Life and Death, introduced Allis and compared their many years of friendship to the many games of tennis they played, keeping down the cut-throat competitive instincts that lives in both of them and instead just enjoying the game and not keeping score. He praised the novel's 'emotional sprawl' and how it offered verbal glimpses of the private ways in which the characters executed their civil wars, in Italy to create one country out of many entities and, in America, to save the country from being torn apart. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with retiring library staffer Deborah Madrey and two decades' worth of observations from behind the circulation desk

By Michelle Laboy, member of the board of the Friends of the South End Library

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This December, we say goodbye to our long time librarian Deborah Madrey, who will retire in January. Deborah has been part of the South End Library for the past 22 years.  She started at the Boston Public Library as a student in Emerson College, working part time at the Copley library from 1971 until 1973. She graduated with a degree in education and moved to Los Angeles in 1978 to work as a teacher. In 1995 she moved back from California to her native Boston, and thanks to her previous experience at the BPL and the good impression she left with former colleagues, she was offered a full time position with the library. She started in the South End in October of 1995 and has worked here since.

She still remembers how the library felt when she arrived. The renovation in the late 1980s that added an elevator had just been completed, and the interior was freshly painted. She describes many changes that happened since, when the library started to get computers and when tapes and DVD’s became a “hot commodity,” so much so that she thinks libraries helped put Blockbuster out of business.  And of course she notes with some reservation the increasing availability of digital books for Kindles. But the biggest changes have been people's tastes in reading. She recalls how popular V. C. Andrew was back then, especially the novel Petals on the Wind. She has not seen western novels and science fiction in a long while, noting, “Now they watch it more than they read it”. She recalls when urban fiction became very popular, with the work of Terry McMillan, which open the door for other black writers who became well known. 

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Deborah has also noticed how much the neighborhood changed during her time at the library. She still loves the South End where she observes, unlike other branches, a more diverse population coming together at the library: poor and rich, white, Hispanics and blacks, native-born and immigrants. She has seen the neighborhood get more “yuppified” and welcome many more families. For Deborah another important constituency is her doggy friends, for whom she keeps a box of milk bones behind the desk, to go outside and greet them with a treat every day. Library patrons who love sports will also remember her passion, as a self-described rabid Patriots fan who has won tickets to their games three times. She also loves to watch tennis matches. According to her co-worker Margaret Gardner, the children’s librarian, many teenagers who grew up coming to the library still come by to say hello to Deborah. Many other library users know her for her kindness and welcoming greetings as you pass the circulation desk or check out a book. When mentioning how much people say how nice she is, her answer says so much: “It's harder to be to be nasty than to be nice".

Her best memories of working at the South End Library are the holiday parties and the jazz concerts. Seeing people that come in during evenings for author talks really makes her feel like the library is doing something good for the neighborhood, that they are rendering a service. She is always impressed by how much we do in such a small space. Deborah loves that she knows many people here, and she will miss the patrons the most. She will also miss her doggie friends and the staff.  She shares how happy it makes her to know that she has many friends in the community, and proudly says that some of the homeless who frequent the library are her friends too; evidently knowing a few of them by name and noticing when they are going through an especially difficult time.

She loves the library, and loves books, which she says, “take you places”. Her friend and long time South End resident Ms. Fanny Johnson stopped by to talk to Deborah, and shared with us the incredible importance of the library to her as a child. “If you grow up in the inner city, the library opens your world; it lets you know that it is bigger than these three or four blocks.” Deborah worries that children don't read as much anymore, especially when she observes them wanting “as little text and as many pictures as possible.” And she cannot understand why some are more interested in the movie than in the original book, noting that they will be miss the imagination that reading inspires.

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For Deborah, the most important role of the library is to give people an opportunity to gain knowledge. But she also sees the library as an essential resource to so many who come to do their taxes, or to use a computer to search for homes and jobs, to do resumes, or use the free resources available to the community. While she recognizes that “we cannot be Bates Hall” and that it is important for a neighborhood branch to be able to be a little bit louder sometimes, she stressed that she will not miss some of the bad behavior that she has experienced on occasion from some of the library users. She is concerned about the challenges the library faces, as she says they cannot be everything to everyone. She knows the library is an important place for many, including the homeless who need a place to be; but she acknowledges that doing all of these things comes with challenges that they grapple with every day.

As we look towards the future without Deborah in the library every day, and we prepare to embark on a new renovation to allow the library to better serve the functions the community needs, her wisdom from years of experience working in this space should be treasured. When thinking about the future of the library, Deborah says that she hopes real books are preserved and that the library does not go all-digital. She thinks there is wisdom in hardcopy books that is shared and passed on from one user to the next.  When asked what the library needs the most, she said she would like to see that dedicated teen space, but that we don’t need a coffee shop!

These few blocks hold many memories of Deborah’s youth. Growing up, she attended the church just across the street at the corner of West Newton and Tremont Streets. Deborah is the youngest of seven children, born and raised in a house on 741 Shawmut. She moved to Roxbury when she was three, and still lives in the same house. She remembers how growing up she felt she had to have a library card. Deborah describes herself as extremely shy, and while she taught in school, she claims that her ability to speak in public was learned in church. The last few years Deborah lived with her brothers; one of whom passed away recently, and she still has another brother who lives in Jamaica Plain. She misses her siblings dearly. But she looks forward to retiring and having time for many new things. She wants to do some traveling, especially to Europe, although she is not crazy about planes.

Deborah will be missed by so many friends of the South End library. We were fortunate to have her kind presence in the library for so many years, and we will remember her always. Most importantly, we want to take this moment of her retirement to celebrate the great community that Deborah helped cultivate in the library, the heart of our beautiful neighborhood.  We wish Deborah a happy and healthy retirement, full of wonderful trips, many new friends, and a few more wins for the Patriots. And we hope that when she is not traveling, she continues to join us during summer concerns, holiday parties and author readings. All the very best wishes to you, Deborah!

 

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The November 2017 Local/Focus Window by Local Calligrapher Emily Gallardo Featured Handwritten Social Justice Quotes by Theodore Parker and Edward Kennedy in the Library's Tremont Street Window

Emily Gallardo, a South end calligrapher with a studio on Waltham Street has installed a ten-foot scroll and a smaller sample in the Tremont Street window of the South End library honoring both the art of calligraphy and the social justice sentiments of two important Massachusetts luminaries, Transcendentalist and abolitionist Theodore Parker (1810-1860) and former Senator Edward Kennedy (1932-2009).  

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"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but a little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight, I can divine it by conscience. And from what I can see I am sure it bends towards justice," says one; "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die," says the other. 

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Gallardo learned calligraphy in high school, majored in graphic design in college, and worked in advertising and marketing before she struck out on her own. She has worked with clients like Neiman Marcus, Ralph Lauren, Hermes and Burberry and teaches calligraphy. In addition, she has and affinity for cross-stitch, and developed kits with samples that range from animals to historical figures. Gallardo can be reached at www.emilygallardo.com. 

Is Boston an Opera Town? "Emphatically, Yes," Say Odyssey Opera Conductor, Gil Rose, and Impresario, Randolph Fuller

  Conductor Gil Rose greeting opera enthusiasts at the South End library in October

Conductor Gil Rose greeting opera enthusiasts at the South End library in October

Randolph Fuller, a local philanthropist devoted to opera, and  Gil Rose, acclaimed conductor of Odyssey Opera, held a South End library audience spellbound last month with their take on Boston's  history of  opera. With glowing reviews for the first two performances of Odyssey Opera's fifth season under their belts, Fuller and Rose may not need to spend any more time dispelling the notion that Boston simply is not an opera town.  "If I hear this complaint one more time...," a somewhat exasperated Rose said,"...Boston is an opera town. It's just not like the others."

Conductor Rose's decades-long relationship with his financial backer Fuller dates from the days of Opera Boston. When the opera company folded in 2012, Fuller and Rose (who is also the moving fore behind the award-winning Boston Modern Orchestra Project and an active international guest conductor) founded Odyssey Opera which, true to its name, is dedicated to presenting a voyage through an eclectic repertoire of well-known and lesser-known opera masterpieces, including contemporary new works and commissions. But without an actual opera house it is a struggle to find space for the performances, Rose acknowledged. This season, for example, the five operas of Trial by Fire, focused on the theme of Joan of Arc and The Hundred Years' War, are being staged in three locations, including NEC's Jordan Hall and the Huntington Avenue and Sanders theatres. The Boston Opera House, formerly located on Huntington Avenue, was torn down in 1958 to make way for the expansion by Northeastern University. "The lack of physical space dedicated for opera in Boston has a practical dimension that makes it difficult to produce opera," Rose explained. "It is related to how many tickets you can sell. By destroying the opera building, which had some 3,000 seats, a financial dynamic was erased. There is tons of opera, but you can’t have an opera company without an opera house and vice versa."  

The popularity of opera in the 18th and 19th centuries inspired Boston's upper class, including Eban Jordan, Isabella Stewart Garner and others, to build the  Boston Opera House in the early 20th century on Huntington Avenue. With a simple design on the outside and lavish features on the inside, it was immediately baptized by the Boston press as “the first Unitarian Opera.” After decades of popular usage, the Boston Opera was demolished in the late 1950s, ceding to  Northeastern University's growing footprint. It was a few years short of the time when the newly established historic preservation movement in Boston would have stopped its destruction, maintains Fuller.  

  Longtime South End resident, local philanthropist and opera devotee, Randolph Fuller, showing the audience pictures of the demolished Boston Opera formerly located on Huntington Avenue

Longtime South End resident, local philanthropist and opera devotee, Randolph Fuller, showing the audience pictures of the demolished Boston Opera formerly located on Huntington Avenue

Fuller's passion for opera has been undiminished since his parents took him to Die Fledermaus, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, when he was nine, at the Boston Opera House. During his library talk, he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge about Boston opera history. He described how the first opera performance in Boston, Richard the Lionheart, by Andre Getry, took place in 1797, in a theatre designed by Charles Bullfinch, located at the corner of Franklin and Federal Streets. By the 1830s, opera was established as a popular form of entertainment and, even though opera was seen as an elite art form in Europe, the Americans saw it as a democratic institution that brought all kinds of people together under one roof, for everyone to enjoy. “It wasn’t so expensive,” Fuller explained, “about 40 cents a ticket for the working class man who'd make $18 a week. It crossed all barriers,” he added, with tickets for the best seats costing $12 to $15 to please what Fuller described as Boston's "codfish aristocracy."

  The Boston Opera House, built in the early 1900s, designed by Wheelwright and Haven, and demolished in 1958 to make room for Northeastern's dorms and facilities

The Boston Opera House, built in the early 1900s, designed by Wheelwright and Haven, and demolished in 1958 to make room for Northeastern's dorms and facilities

Opera in Boston also reflected America's epic history of immigration in the 19th century, said Fuller, with first Italians, then Germans, then Eastern Europeans and Russians taking the stage as performers, or buying tickets as enthusiastic audiences. Around 1840, profitable touring opera companies traveled to cities all over the US, including to Charleston, New Orleans, San Francisco and even Havana, Cuba. Until the 1860s, most operas were staged by Italian opera companies and sung in Italian, but after the failed revolution in Germany in 1848, many excellent German musicians and singers immigrated to the US, expanding the repertoire with German-language composers. By 1898, a big pool of American talent had been established, so that many operas could be sung in English, including at the South End's Grand Opera on Washington Street (since torn down). In the late 1890s, another  huge immigration wave, from Eastern Europe, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia, brought their favorite performers and audiences, including the Hebrew National Opera Company, which programmed Russian operas as well as many traditional ones like Carmen, but sung in Yiddish. 

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The first two operas of the Trial by Fire series, Tchaikovsy's The Maid of Orleans and Donizetti's Siege of Calaisreceived rave reviews. The next performances coming up are on December 1 (Dello Joio's The Trial at Rouen) at NEC's Jordan Hall; February 17, 2018 (Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au Buecher) at the Sanders Theatre; and April 5 and 7 (Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco) at the Huntington Avenue Theatre. For details and reviews, visit the Odyssey Opera website, linked here.