Imagine a new life in an old place: near Boston

What’s the point of travel if not to imagine another life or make a few memories? If the strongest links to memory are taste and smell, then there’s no better place to get to know a new locale than a bakery on a sleepy Sunday morning—my favorite day of the week for exploring.

Beyond pastries at Fiore’s Bakery
I spotted Fiore’s Bakery in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood in an old building with few exterior improvements. Fiore’s has the down-to-earth vibe of a family-owned business passed down through generations, but it’s all an illusion. Charles Fiore started this bakery in 2004, and although it is only a teenager, it has become like a favorite old aunt or uncle among locals.

Fiore’s offers a robust breakfast menu for people who like to start the day with a firm foundation. This should tell you something: Fiore’s serves breakfast all day long. The menu also offers several options for vegans and people with gluten allergies.

I ordered a cheese omelet, which came with leafy greens, cottage fries, a buttery croissant and hot coffee for under $10.

From a counter next to the window, I watched the Sunday morning crowd roll in.

Jamaica Plain’s community gems
With time to kill before my friends collected me for a trip to nearby Concord, Massachusetts, I took a morning stroll.

A block away from Fiore’s is the neighborhood branch of the Boston Public Library, founded in 1876 as a small reading room in the Curtis Hall Community Center. The town constructed this branch in 1911 and renovated it in 2017 with the addition of a new wing that merges old and new architecture. I longed to step inside and see the interior, but the library wasn’t open.

Just beyond the library, I turned onto Centre Street and stopped to admire an old Georgian mansion. Built in 1760, the Loring-Greenough House has been carefully preserved by the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Morning Club, once a ladies-only club.

Today Loring-Greenough House is a community hub for concerts, historical reenactments and other community events. They host tours every Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m., sharing history about the Boston landmark. The property is surrounded by a sprawling lawn that was originally part of a 60-acre farm.

The house and farm were once the pride and joy of a wealthy British loyalist who abandoned them just before the American Revolution in 1774. (Wealthy, indeed. Can you imagine just walking away from such a home?) During that conflict, it served as a hospital for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

A few blocks off of Centre Street, I discovered Jamaica Pond, a 68-acre pond bordered by a park and a 1.5-mile walking path. That morning, the park was hosting a 5k run. I walked the path and returned to my AirBnB, ogling the majestic homes that define Jamaica Plain.

Many were built as country homes for wealthy Bostonians in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Others emerged during the Industrial Revolution as multi-family homes, one family to each floor. If you go, save an hour or two to view neighborhood architecture and housing that simply doesn’t exist in newer parts of the U.S.

A thespian’s delight
I arrived at home base and met my hospitable friends, Maureen and Adam, for a scenic ride to nearby Concord, Massachusetts, where Maureen is a costume designer at The Umbrella, a community theatre. Another thing you need to know about the Boston area: community theatre is a big deal. Throw a dart and you can find a show that rivals any professional theatre troupe.

Jamaica Plain, for example, has America’s oldest community theatre, the Footlight Club, located a few blocks from where I stayed. The Umbrella Theatre and the Footlight are just a few of the costuming gigs my girlfriend juggles. It’s a labor of love she balances with a full-time job as a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our show didn’t begin until 2 p.m., which gave us time to explore two literary attractions situated a few miles apart in Concord.

The clapboard house that sheltered American genius
The Old Manse was once a hotbed for political and social discourse. Louisa May Alcott’s father hung out there with Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and other progressive thought leaders of the day. It was also home to two literary giants, first Ralph Waldo Emerson and later Nathanial Hawthorne.

From a small desk on the second floor, Emerson wrote his transcendentalist essay, Nature. A few years later, Hawthorne wrote Mosses from an Old Manse from the same room. There, Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, marked themselves as graffiti artists, carving love poems into the glass window panes. Is it possible that they ran out of paper?

Evidently, the Hawthornes were always behind on their rent. The couple lived there three years, during which Nathanial was a struggling writer with very little income. Sophia, an artist, was the main breadwinner during those years. Despite the financial support Sophia lent, Hawthorne sometimes discouraged his wife’s artistic pursuits. Oh, well. I guess they worked it out.

The Alcotts: one of Concord’s most influential families
A short drive from The Old Manse is the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott. On the second floor of the home, you can see the little shelf Alcott’s father built as her writing desk, the spot where the beloved author wrote Little Women.

Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was a teacher and a transcendentalist philosopher, neither of which were lucrative occupations. Not to put too fine a point on things, but the patriarch of the family was a free spirit who couldn’t be bothered with looking after his family’s physical needs. The family lived in poverty and hunger until Alcott’s work became a sensation.

Louisa’s mother, Abigail, was an intellectual, instrumental with many important social reforms that benefited women, poor people and the enslaved. She was also an educator, known not just for the advanced schooling she gave her children, but also for tutoring Daniel Chester French. French went on to become a major American artist, crafting prominent works such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A charming detail from young Louisa’s journals: she loved to run, describing it as a spiritual experience that brought her closer to God. Louisa sometimes sprinted from her Concord home to Boston, a distance of nearly 20 miles. Like her mother, Louisa May Alcott was also an ardent suffragist and became the first woman in Concord to register for the vote.

A View from the Bridge at the Umbrella Annex
The five-diamond event of the day was a show staged by the Umbrella Community Arts Center, costumed by my talented friend, Maureen Festa. This production of Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge was performed in interim space due to a renovation of the theatre’s primary space.

Set in the 1950s, Miller’s tragedy takes audiences on a disturbing tour of an Italian-American family’s disintegration. From the start, Eddie Carbone’s descent feels inevitable. Following the story is like anticipating a train wreck: you can’t bear to look, but you can’t look away. This production was perfectly cast and brilliantly played.

During intermission, Maureen described small set and costuming decisions that lent authenticity to the show: a crucifix that would have hung on the walls of any Italian-American home in the 1950s, aprons worn over crisp shirtwaist dresses for Eddie’s wife, Beatrice, and high heels that signal the transformation of their niece from a teen to a young woman.

A succulent taste of Scotland at The Haven
It’s a good thing I ate a big breakfast. Our day was so full that we only had time for quick coffee before the show. After the show, we returned to Jamaica Plain for dinner, and by the time we arrived at The Haven, everyone was famished. This Scottish restaurant serves hearty, made-from-scratch pub food and a legendary list of single-malt Scotch, and craft beers and whiskies made in Scotland. I devoured my seared Scottish salmon, served with buttered broccolini and green beans.

Seated at a long, rustic table in the middle of the dining room, we had a birds-eye view of The Haven’s weathered bar on a rowdy Sunday night. We might easily have been in Scotland’s oldest pub. Whether you want to enhance your knowledge of whisky or you just want to enjoy the authentic taste of Scotland, The Haven is a winner.

Maureen and Adam dropped me at my Dunster Road lodging, ending a day of easy companionship and literary inspiration. Before bed, I Googled Louisa May Alcott and found an article that shared her desperate state of mind at age 24. Discouraged by a future that seemed bleak and hopeless, Alcott contemplated suicide. Instead, she dusted herself off and resolved to “take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” And so must we, dear traveler, so must we.

Author: Crusty