A Lady Escapes: Phipps Conservatory

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A week ago, I was travelling back from Pittsburgh, my sweet home of homes and bringing with me four days of freshly made memories. One of them was a return to Phipps Conservatory, a well-known landmark in the East End of Pittsburgh where I grew up. Built in 1893 as a gift to the city, it still stands as glorious as ever, lending pleasure to the city's residents, as was its original intent. I went fairly frequently as a child, but haven't returned since-only in an occasional dream. The place is magical, at once reminding the visitor of America's gilded age from which it sprang while at the same time sharing all the wonder of the world's flora and fauna. Pittsburgh's industrialists always strove to remind its workers of beauty and education, whether through Carnegie's libraries or through the creation of this conservatory by Henry Phipps. There are close to twenty distinct gardens, ranging from a space filled with orchids to a desert room covered with succulents and cacti, to a "parterre de broderie" and the grand Victorian palm court. I have been to many botanical gardens, and though I am truly biased in this case, I can honestly say that Phipps is a masterpiece. Botanists and avid gardeners will undeniably fall in love with it, but artists will thoroughly enjoy capturing its beauty and children will race through it with excitement.  So many years had passed since I visited. I won't make the same mistake again. 

Nearby: Oldies Marketplace in Newburyport

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When my mother came to visit a few weeks ago, I chose to take her to the little town on the North Shore that has recently taken my fancy: Newburyport. I took her so she  could see the lovingly restored homes of 17th and 18th centuries and the quiet beauty of its town center, composed of wonderful shops that few Bostonians strangely never seem to mention.  

One such shop, which proudly announces itself with its wild storefront and creative facade, is located on the rear of Water Street and goes by the name of "Oldies Marketplace." 
And what a place it is!
 We did not prepare to spend the better part of an hour there, but would have had it no other way-for there was too much to see and consider - too many objects to momentarily hold in our hands while questioning their possible place in our decorative lives. 
I left with a pewter creamery; my mother with a nautical print to give as a gift. 
The best thing about Oldies Marketplace is its size and its inviting layout. Naturally, one can easily find the good and the bad in places like these. But unlike other similar stores, Oldies effortlessly creates the desire in the visitor to stay and search. One is neither overwhelmed by the array of items available nor the dust that they may carry-one is only enthralled. 
And pretty soon, you have spent an hour collecting treasures you never expected to find in the old shipping center of Newburyport. 

Nearby: Georges Island

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I had high hopes of a June filled with entries of my small explorations.  Alas! 
July arrives on Tuesday and I'm waving goodbye to June of 2014 without the pleasure of truly knowing it. But there were at least a few adventures I was lucky enough to experience, some of which I shall try to write of in the coming weeks and the rest that I'll remember only in my mind. 

I met Georges Island on the first weekend of the month. One of the harbor boats led me there from the wharf and in an hour I found myself seeing Fort Warren for the first time. 
Named for the Boston revolutionary Dr. Joseph Warren, it was built in the mid-19th century and is known today for it's significance during the Civil War. This is where imprisoned Confederate soldiers and political prisoners, such as Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens learned of the cruel New England winter for the first time. They could direct their gazes towards the untouched city of Boston and they could long for their own homes. But this fort became their Northern home in a way, and I could wander silently through it, with only the sound of nearby families exploring at their own pace (faster or slower depending on the courage of the children). The walls are splattered with the memories of the past 150 years, memories of those who dwelt within its rooms along with the ones who have since visited them. A dark quiet lingers throughout the insides of the fort where shadows seem to reign.

But then there are the ramparts and the green pathways that cover the dark rooms and they are all beauty, as if they are rooftop gardens dating from the Civil War. 
Prisoners could take their walks and look out to the sea, to either think of places like Shiloh and Antietam and Fredericksburg or choose to forget about them entirely. As I walked, I thought of ghosts, like the Lady in Black, who is said to still haunt the Fort. 
Yet, it was a perfect June day, dominated by sunshine and blue skies, and I could only feel invigorated to be there and happy the fort still stands, to impart knowledge to anyone who is curious enough to accept it. 

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