Friday, December 30, 2011

Experiencing "The Joy of Quiet".

Monastery of the Society of  St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, MA
(photo: © Lynn Schweikart)

In The Joy of Quiet, an opinion piece that will appear in this Sunday's New York Times, travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer writes about the importance of "stillness", which he believes is the path to "sensing not what is new, but what is essential.".

Iyer writes of one of his favorite getaways: a Benedictine monasatery near Big Sur. He doesn't participate in services, or even meditate when he makes a retreat there; rather he "walks, reads, and loses himself in the stillness". (The fact that this spot, located between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of California's Central Coast, is one of the world's most inspiring natural landscapes no doubt contributes to Iyer's sense of peacefulness.)

I immediately googled "Benedictine monastery, Big Sur" and found the place he was describing: the New Camaldoli Hermitage, where a guest retreat room runs $95 a night. (In contrast, at the posh Post Ranch Inn, just up Highway One, rooms start at $595 a night.)

Of course, you don't have to travel across the country to experience this level of quiet.  The Monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA accepts guests for a night or more. Here, too, you can participate as much or as little as you please in the monastic life . (Though I'd recommend attending at least one chanted service in the circa 1936 French Romanesque chapel.)

Iyer quotes the Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, who describes joy as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” One of my New Year's resolutions is to devote more time in 2012 to experiencing the stillness that inspires that kind of joy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stop, Look, and Above All, Linger

Boston Public Library Courtyard Copyright: Lynn Schweikart
 Frank Bruni's column in this morning's New York Times entitled Time, Distance and Clarity, had a poignant message: too often we rush about our busy day without really taking in or appreciating our surroundings.

"I’m talking about subtle, incidental blessings that are strangely invisible to us. My friend N. realized that there was a towering, flowering Schefflera plant in front of her childhood home in California only after she’d moved to New York and begun coveting one in a Manhattan store, which wanted $500 for it," says Bruni.

Ah, yes, the blessings that greet us every day, which we are often too preoccupied to acknowledge. Bruni's column was inspired by his recent trip to Rome, a city where he'd lived and worked for a number of years, and was visiting again on a brief vacation.

"Above Rome’s pale yellow and dusky orange buildings, the sky somehow looks bluer than it does almost anywhere else," Bruni muses, "Did I take proper note of that when I saw it all the time? When it was the canopy over my waking, my working and the all-consuming, all-distracting tedium of daily life?"

I had similar feelings as I wandered around Boston last year, doing the research for Peaceful Places Boston. Was this stretch of Beacon Hill always so beautiful? Had I ever really paused to sit in the in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library and listen to the fountain? Why had I never taken the time to indulge my urge to wander along the Southwest Corridor Park and admire the South End's garden squares?

Especially in this season, when there is too much to do, and too little time to do it, it's good for the soul to rest for a moment and really notice.

"My companion halted in his tracks one afternoon to point out the heart-tugging perfection of the square we were in," writes Bruni. "It was the Piazza di Sant’Ignazio, one long side of which is traced by elaborately curved 18th-century buildings that evoke a rococo chest of drawers. I’d zoomed through it repeatedly years ago. And never once lingered. On this occasion I did. And then, my lesson learned, I stopped by again the next morning, before I headed to the airport and lost the precious chance."

Don't miss your precious chances: watch the sunset over the Charles River. Listen to the joyful sounds of children skating on the Frog Pond. Stop and smell the rich sea air near the waterfront. You'll come away restored and refreshed, with a deeper appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us every day.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Places in Boston to Kiss

Photo: Copyright Lynn Scheikart

Today, ran a feature on the 21 best places in the city to kiss. I was pleased to see that I'd already featured 18 of those romantic spots in Peaceful Places Boston. But if you want to steal a smooch in a place that's a little more off the beaten path--such as the Peter Fanueil House Garden on Beacon Hill, pictured above--you'll discover plenty of ideas in my book. (NOTE: This lovely garden is maintained by the Beacon Hill Garden Club. Part of the proceeds from their annual Hidden Garden Tour, held in mid-May, are earmarked to care for this special place.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Tree Lighting Tonight.

The Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place at the Frog Pond, Boston Common tonight. Festivities are slated to begin at 5, though in the past, the actual lighting has happened closer to 6:15. Here's a link to the Boston Globe article describing the event.

Peaceful Places Boston tip: Tonight the lights will also start glowing on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. That ceremony takes place closer to 7:00 near the Taj Hotel -- it's a little more laidback than the Common event -- and afterwards, you can take a peaceful stroll down the Mall.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Boston Globe Finds Four of My Peaceful Places!

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote an article in Sunday's paper profiling some of her favorite secret garden spots in the city.

I was interested to see that four of her five places are among the 121 that will be featured in Peaceful Places Boston: the Howard Ulfelder Healing Garden at Massachusetts General Hospital, pictured above; the atrium at 101 Merrimac Street, near North Station; the observation deck at Independence Wharf just off the Rose Kennedy Greenway; and the Cambridge Center Roof Garden, shown here.                                    

The fifth place, the Custom House observation deck, was one I'd considered but eliminated because there's too narrow a window of time to visit. Too bad, because it's a lovely, historic spot that should belong to us all. Here's a link to the article, Secret Garden Spots.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

May Our Peaceful Places Stay Peaceful

Here's hoping that Irene is kind to Boston and New England. Looking forward to blue skies, calm seas, and gentle breezes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Poem Can Help Make Wherever You Are A Peaceful Place

                                  Garden at the Groupius House, Lincoln, MA         © Lynn Schweikart 2011

Philip Levine was just named U.S. Poet Laureate. This poem from his book, The Mercy, was published in The Atlantic Monthly, January 1999.


If you said "Nice day," he would look up
at the three clouds riding overhead,
nod at each, and go back to doing what-
ever he was doing or not doing.
If you asked for a smoke or a light,
he'd hand you whatever he found
in his pockets: a jackknife, a hankie --
usually unsoiled -- a dollar bill,
a subway token. Once he gave me
half the sandwich he was eating
at the little outdoor restaurant
on La Guardia Place. I remember
a single sparrow was perched on the back
of his chair, and when he held out
a piece of bread on his open palm,
the bird snatched it up and went back to
its place without even a thank you,
one hard eye staring at my bad eye
as though I were next. That was in May
of '97, spring had come late,
but the sun warmed both of us for hours
while silence prevailed, if you can call
the blaring of taxi horns and the trucks
fighting for parking and the kids on skates
streaming past silence. My friend Frankie
was such a comfort to me that year,
the year of the crisis. He would turn
up his great dark head just going gray
until his eyes met mine, and that was all
I needed to go on talking nonsense
as he sat patiently waiting me out,
the bird staring over his shoulder.
"Silence is silver," my Zaydee had said,
getting it wrong and right, just as he said
"Water is thicker than blood," thinking
this made him a real American.
Frankie was already American,
being half German, half Indian.
Fact is, silence is the perfect water:
unlike rain it falls from no clouds
to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes,
to give heart to the thin blades of grass
fighting through the concrete for even air
dirtied by our endless stream of words.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

There Is Nothing Like This Dame

Came upon this sign while wandering around the Back Bay. It's on the fence in front of the townhouse that sits where Isabella Stewart Gardner's Beacon Street mansion once stood. She caused quite a stir when she decamped from here to the Venetian-inspired palazzo she built for herself and her art in the much more peaceful, yet marshy Fens. (Home today to the Gardner Museum.) What I hadn't realized was that Mrs. Jack, as she was know, had stipulated that her house number, 152, never be used on Beacon Street again! And you know what? It isn't! The townhouses go from 150 to 154. Talk about chuzpah! And power!
(Did you know her will stipulates that anyone named Isabella gets into the museum for free?)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Waiting for Her Ship To Come In

Boston's other opening day is this Saturday, April 16th, and workers at the Public Garden were getting the swan boats ready for the '11 season -- which will be the 135th! The only question is, with all the people who'll be lining up to say hello, when is the most peaceful time to take a ride?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Star of the Day

The saucer magnolias on Commonwealth Avenue are more abundant, but the star magnolias on the Farifield-to-Exeter block of Marlborough Street are in bloom right now and the fragrance is amazing. Relax and smell the magnolias! (And get ready for those Comm. Ave sweeties, which should be in full bloom later this week. (Weather permitting!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jeepers, Creepers, Don't You Love Those Peepers!

Spring Peeper by Norm Walsh
Spring Peeper, a photo by Norm Walsh on Flickr.

I love the sounds of spring and the way each new bird returning or passing through adds its voice to the dawn chorus. But the night chorus is also impressive. Just head to a wooded or grassy area near wetlands or vernal pools and listen. The sometimes deafening whistles and calls are the love songs of Spring peepers, tiny nocturnal frogs. Hearing them brings a smile to my face.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Crocus a Bloomin'

Cold, blustery day in Boston. But that doesn't stop these crocuses from glowing in a garden on the corner of Fairfield and Marlborough Streets.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eggplant with Chocolate: Oh My!

Our friend Sam is in town, so we tried Erbaluce in Bay Village for the first time. Lovely! Amazing to be at a restaurant on a Friday night and be able to hear our conversations!

Food was splendid: we shared two pastas as appetizers: a mushroom lasagnette and fettucine with beets, beet greens, speck, and sage. Both were so delicious and unusual, I wish I'd had my own portion. But then, I wouldn't have had room for dinner -- or dessert. Rack of wild boar with wild grape musto was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The dessert? A traditional recipe from Amalfi:  white eggplant, which has been roasted, then wrapped around ricotta sweetened with honey, black currants, and white chocolate, drizzled with dark chocolate ganache and garnished with saffron marinated oranges. Bellisimo!

Wine and service couldn't have been better.

69 Church Street (Bay Village) Boston, 02116
Tel. 617 426 6969 Fax 617 426 6909
Hours: Sun, Tues-Thurs 5-10pm Fri-Sat 5-11pm (closed monday)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Glass Flowers

Took some time out for a peaceful lunchtime visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History with my friend Blue Magruder, who is director of communications there. The justifiably famous glass flower collection is the perfect antidote to a damp and dreary March day. Everything in bloom from iris to rhodies to cacti. Did you know the flowers were created not for beauty, but to provide perfect specimens for the study of botany?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Making Time For Solitude

From an article by Leon Neyfakh on the Power of Lonely in today's Boston Globe:

  "An emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking.

There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone."

What better reason to take time out to explore peaceful places? What are some of your favorite places to search out when you want a little solitude?

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Arriving today in Portsmouth on the south wind: our first red-winged blackbird of the season, singing in the oaks beside Sagamore Creek. A hint of those warm, peaceful sunny spring days to come -- once the remaining foot or so of snow melts!

Addison Gallery, Andover

My friends, Jeri and Elliot, accompanied me to the Addison Gallery of American Art on the campus of Phillips Andover Academy. Amazing art collection and truly peaceful place! There's a special exhibit called Inside, Outside, Upstairs, Downstairs: The Addison Anew, there through March 27th. I especially loved the Jackson Pollack, Ansel Adams' breathtaking El Capitan, Sunrise, Winter, Yosemite National Park, CA,  and seascapes by John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Georgia O'Keefe -- the latter's work Wave/Night, painted in 1928, was inspired by her two-week vacation at York Beach, Maine in the spring of that year.