There are benefits to walking the same places over and over, across the seasons. I get to see the little changes and discover patterns (like the tree that Orioles nest in year after year). But sometimes I just want to see something radically new, to explore the unknown, get lost and find my way out again.
A couple weeks ago I was in Jamaica Plain (JP) getting ice cream with friends, and I knew that I had to come back on my own to explore. I admit some of that feeling was based on a desire to have another cone of Bailey's Cheese Cake ice cream at JP Licks, but it was also based on the quirky shops, murals on every corner and the chocolate box-like assortment of architectural styles. I wanted to see it all.
For anyone reading who's not local, JP is a Boston neighborhood, about 5 miles south of the city. I've heard it described as "eclectic", "shabby chic", "artsy" and "hip". But I've had almost no first hand knowledge of the place - until this weekend.
There are a couple reasons why I haven't gotten to know JP sooner. For one, it's on the south side of the city and I'm usually to the north. Just as important, the few times I've been there have involved driving on the Jamaicaway (designed for carriages) or Route 9; both are way too skinny for the number of speeding cars on them. Getting to JP requires advanced driving.
I arrived in JP for my walk with water, a camera, and my GPS in pedestrian mode in case I got thuroughly turned around. My only plan was to explore until I couldn't resist the siren call of ice cream any longer.
I'd come to walk, but this sign
and the steady stream of people going into a thrift store of all places, caused a small shopping related detour. The sign says:
"Booms has everything you need for your trial watching party.
Even Whitey Bulger can't deny that Booms has the best deals in town.
And he loves raising AIDS funds."
You've got to admit, it's original.
A purchase heavier and a few dollars lighter, I was back on track. I took the first side road I saw and wondered if I might have made a mistake. The yards I passed were overgrown with weeds up to my shoulder. On the other side of the road a few twigs of men were arguing in front of an apartment building. They shared the gaunt, leathery look that comes from hard living. I was just starting to consider turning back and trying a different road, when I came around a corner and the scene changed dramatically.
The gardens still grew tall, but now instead of wild grasses, they were full of sunflowers, black eyed susans and flowering bushes. The houses appeared freshly painted in colors fit to challenge the radiance of their gardens.
And then of course there were the porches. I love a porch that invites you to sit down and just watch the world go by. It doesn't take anything elaborate, just a couple comfortable chairs,
and a bit of something green. No need for an extended family of gnomes, an orchestra of windchimes and so many other things that the space becomes pinched. A porch is for taking a deep breath, letting your shoulders sink away from your ears and stretching your legs out long and cat-like.
Walking through JP made me once again wish I knew more about architecture. If anyone knows a good beginner's book to recognizing what eras different features came from, please be sure to leave a comment or send an email. I saw:
a terrific cupola atop a grand old house,
and a blue house all but lost between tall apartments, which reminded me instantly of Virginia Lee Burton's book The Little House.
That's a scrub brush for his mane.
I would have loved to see this when the colors were fresh. To me this one looks like people growing out of a tree. Is it rebirth? Showing our connection to the earth? I tried to find out who was behind this project and what idea inspired the figures, but the only reference I found was an image on Google maps street view. The next time I'm in JP I'll have to look around and see if there's a sign that I missed.
The artsy nature of JP is not limited to vacant lots. In part 2 I'll share some amazing murals and fantastic store decorations.
I hope you're enjoying this glimpse of Jamaica Plain.