Category Archives: local

Trouble in Paradiso

Paradiso Lost, sign 2Caffé Paradiso in Harvard Square has closed up shop. I’m crushed. It’s a double-whammie. I just lost another coffee shop of personal significance last August (the Someday Café in Davis Square). And earlier this year, another independent Harvard Square institution, the Greenhouse restaurant (which Terri and I lovingly called The Greasehouse, though we didn’t go much for that reason) closed up shop abruptly after the death of the owner.

The Hanover Street location is apparently still open in the North End.

Here’s the sign that Summervillain and I found when we were trying to go there this evening before we were heading over to the Brattle:

To our friends, dedicated customers, and long-time patrons.

We have come to terms with this location and thus moving on. As we take on new horizons we thank you for all those memorable years.

I, Oscar De Stefano, will be taking on a less complicated life.

Some of the staff will be in the North End Caffé Paradiso @ 255 Hanover Street

Respectfully,
Oscar De Stefano

I feel like another little piece of my past got ripped out of me. Almost twelve years ago, I went there for the first time; I had flown in from Indiana, where I was going to college, to spend Thanksgiving with my family, who were all congregating in Boston. My brother and sister were in their first year with the Boston Ballet (I can’t remember if my then-soon-to-be-sister-in-law had moved up to Boston yet or not), and my parents and other sisters were coming up from Pennsylvania. I came up a few days earlier than then, and since the sibs were rehearsing for the Nutcracker, I had some time to myself, and so I went to Harvard Square. It was one of those grey November days where you can tell just from the air that a snow is coming. I kind of fell in love with the weird little brick alleys and haphazardly laid-out streets. I went into the Paradiso to warm up and have a spinach calzone. It started snowing, and I thought for the first time, “I could live here.”

Paradiso was a different breed than the wave of Pacific Northwest style espresso shops that cropped up around the country in the 90′s. It was an Italian style cafe. Over time, I noticed them make concessions to American coffee shop conventions: they began selling cappuccinos in different sizes, they began selling chai, they began selling lattes, they dropped the table service, and so on. But you could still get real-deal gelato, cannolli, San Pelligrino sodas, panini pressed in a little tabletop press.

I’m not dealing with this well at all! I get a clenched feeling in my chest every time I think about how I’ll never be able to go there and spend hours reading or writing in notebooks, half-watching Italian soap operas or soccer games on satellite TV with the staff. Did they even have wi-fi? I have no idea.

What’s going in there? The only thing worse than another chain store in Harvard Square would be if the space goes idle for years, the way that the Other Music space went idle for years (and was finally filled… by an “aromatherapy martini” bar— I can’t make it up) and the way that Wordsworth went out years ago and still hasn’t been replaced by anything.

Anyway, at least the movie that I went to see with Terri and Summervillain was great.

Trouble in ParadiseIt was Trouble in Paradise, the fantastic Ernst Lubitsch comedy from 1932 starring Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis. It’s so perfect; the writing is fantastic, the acting— particularly the timing— is superb, the cinematography is gorgeous, the sets are fantastic. In a lot of ways it is very restrained about sex— you barely see any kissing— but much is suggested. The humor is in no small part fueled by extremely witty double-entendres and there is a very “Contintental” attitude toward sex throughout. It was released just months before the Hays code really kicked in; it would be another thirty-five years before Hollywood got that open about sex again, and it would never again have that elegant, paradoxical, and intoxicating combination of openness and restraint. The sets and clothes are stylish, modern, and somehow more tasteful than some of the over-the-top displays of extravagance in other films shot in the nadir of the depression. You still just want to climb in and live in that world (at least I do). And, at least for me, the perfection of the whole thing is bittersweet, knowing that thanks to (fellow Wabash College alumnus) Will Hays, there would never be another film like this made again.

I guess that is the way of Paradise: it’s always in the past, somewhere that you can’t get back to.

Evil nazi eugenicisists still alive and well in Cambridge

Back in the day, Matt Shaw and I were working on our fun-to-write but probably less-fun-to-read and even-less-fun-to-watch-had-we-gotten-our-shit-together-and-made-the-movie screenplay for the world’s first yoga action movie where the Cambridge power-yoga studio (led by Baron Baptiste) fought the Brookline power-yoga studio (led by Beryl Bender Birch). The two yoga studios were going to be proxies for our subtle jabs at everything that’s wrong with Cambridge and everything that’s wrong with Brookline, respectively.

But in the end, the two were going to join forces against the evil nazi eugenicists who were funding a dotcom startup (this was circa 2000) called goodgenes.com, which was a dating service for graduates of Ivy League institutions. Unfortunately, we did not make this part up. I mean, we made up the nazi funding part, but not the website, or its somewhat disturbing eugenicist overtones.

Terri pointed this sign out to me on the subway today. Apparently, there is still a demand for this kind of dating service.

Evil Nazi Eugenicists alive and well in Cambridge, Mass.

Soundbites / i-cafe connection

Speaking of i-cafe in Teele Square, I just saw this little tidbit on Chowhound:

got to talking to the owner, ali, who, it turns out to be the original owner of soundbites. he sold out to the breakfast nazi 9 or 10 years ago. made me a banana crepe on the house — nice touch.

I haven’t been to Soundbites since the time the breakfast nazi threw our check at us and told us to leave, the very second that our friend John picked up his last forkful of omelette. And yet, John keeps going back every time he’s in town. It must be the crack in the hash browns.

This Sign Has Been Hacked

This sign has been hackedStuff like this is why I love working in the MIT neighborhood. On my walk to the T from work, I saw this sign on Vassar Street in front of the Stata Center. It was cycling between a message that the Mass Ave bridge will be closed from 6 am – 3 pm on Sunday, and that the sign had been hacked. Granted, it could have been more clever, especially considering that it’s going to be closed because a new Kevin Spacey movie is shooting there. Still, plain old technical chops and the chutzpah to pull it off go a long way sometimes.

I also shot a little movie, which is up on YouTube.

i-cafe in Teele Square

For as much as I griped about the demise of the Someday a few months back, I feel like a heel for not going to the i-cafe in Teele Square before now. It’s so great, and it’s right around the corner from The Curtisian.

It’s crazy— I keep hearing pretty good things about it, but haven’t gotten past the fact that it looks like it’s just a doorway to a basement. And, basically, it is, but stepping into the basement is like being teleported from Teele Square to Morocco (the owners are an unbelieveably nice Moroccan couple). It’s actually a surprisingly roomy space, all decked out in carpets and Moroccan lamps and cushions, with a space up front for live music and apparently movies. It’s very uncrowded, which would be a good thing, but I’m advertising it here, because I fear its disappearance more than I fear its becoming overcrowded at this point.

Terri and I talked with the woman who is co-owner on the way out. Apparently, they are going to have a hearing coming up where they can extend their hours until 2am and have live music; a petition is going to be in The Somerville News soon. She mentioned that the location used to house a bar called The Jumbo (sounds Tuftian), which I don’t know anything about.

Until the Someday kids get things going at Sacco’s in Davis Square (which is very much in the works), it’s worth checking out. Actually, for those of us who live nearer Teele Square, it’s probably more interesting than Someday @ Sacco’s.

Circle of life, Mass Ave store pet edition

Dixie, rest in peaceOne of the things that made University Wine Shop a nice local wine shop in the area around Harvard Law School, near Terri’s old neighborhood, was the store cat. She’d walk around the store or sleep in her cat bed on the windowsill, mostly indifferent to the commercial proceedings or passers by on Mass Ave. Even though Terri hasn’t lived there for almost 10 years now, when we’re in the neighborhood, e.g. to go to Cambridge Common, we walk by the shop, we’d pop in to see her. Well, we saw this sad sign while we were walking by yesterday afternoon. R.I.P., Dixie.

Pup in window of HistoryHowever, we continued down the street and stopped into History, a new vintage shop a little bit down Mass Ave. Aside from having clever little price tags (each had a typed story fragment with period details to indicate the decade of the article of clothing), a store dog was sunning himself in the front window.

Winter Hill High?

Sitting in my drafts folder for a couple of weeks has been this tidbit about a very slight controversy in Colorado around a resolution to make John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” the state song.

‘A high is medically the releasing of endorphins in the brain — yes, drugs cause it, but so do lots of other things,” said State Senator Bob Hagedorn, a Democrat from the suburbs of Denver who successfully led the drive on Monday to make Mr. Denver’s anthem ”Rocky Mountain High” Colorado’s second state song. The tune will have joint status with ”Where the Columbines Grow,” which pretty much everyone agrees is about flowers.

”We could be talking about guys who’ve been fishing all day, or kids pigging out on s’mores, with the chocolate,” Senator Hagedorn said, referring to other endorphin-producing activities.

Indeed.

But here’s what makes this noteworthy to me:

Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, N.M., the singer originally considered calling himself John Sommerville, according to his official Web site, Johndenver.com, before settling on Colorado’s capital city for his stage name and Aspen in the central Rockies as his home.

I know, it’s spelled slightly differently than Somerville, MA, but what if John Denver had chosen Somerville, MA, as his namesake, and made it his home. Would it have meant that the 70′s would have been filled with the mellow sounds of John Sommerville singing about the joys of bowling at Sacco’s, throwing back a pint at Sligo’s, the peaceful natural beauty of the Mystic River?