Sunday, August 26, 2012

Visiting Henry, Harry & the Huangs

One of our summer weekend getaways took us to Lexington and Concord.  Peter and I had visited ages ago, and I wanted to return to the area primarily to visit the Peabody Essex Museum.  To prep the kids (and refresh ourselves) about the significance of these towns, we talked about the Revolutionary War, read some books, and watched Liberty's Kids on Youtube.  Alas, once we arrived, we spent more time gawking and marveling at the sights than recalling history.  The ooh's and wow's started with checking in at the marvelously hip and modern (and surprisingly affordable) Aloft Hotel.  Tofu Girl is sitting in a half of the lobby while her brother was probably hanging out by the pool table.

Even the elevators were delightful with squishy floor mats that contained a blue gel so that when you stepped, they changed their patterns.  The fabulous colors and shapes and even music, piped into the public areas at low volume, were fun and energizing.  While the scene might have been designed with hip and cool singles and couples in mind, we (though none of the above) loved the experience too.

We made our way over to Walden Pond to visit Henry David Thoreau's "experiment."  A replica of his cabin and bean patch give visitors a chance to imagine living the "wide awake" life that Thoreau promoted.  The kids said hello to Thoreau, and one cheeky child placed some reading material in his upturned hand.  We hiked the trail around Walden Pond in the light rain, which was refreshing in the heat.

After hearing an aunt and uncle rave about the Yin Yu Tang compound at the Peabody in Salem, I really wanted to see it too.  The home belonged to the Huang family for two hundred years and then was sold to the museum which transported and rebuilt it.  I think our astonished wow's for the hotel increased a hundredfold for the historic house.  I have seen movies which depict multiple-family Chinese homes, but to walk through one is an amazing sensory experience.  We tried to imagine living within this wooden compound whose main light source was the open air above a narrow courtyard.  Though our own home is quite cozy (okay, small), we wondered about living in one of compact rooms allotted to each family.

What stuck with me is that women and children lived in the compound; the men worked and lived away.  If the family members got along well, the situation could have been wonderful.  However, it's an odd juxtaposition to recall Thoreau's sense of freedom in his tiny cabin and to think about how some Chinese women might have felt living in these spaces.  Maybe I was projecting, but I was not the only one.  A security guard, who must see the house everyday during her shift, still marveled over the house, whispering to me: "Everyone would know everyone else's business."

We spent hours at the Peabody and only saw a fraction of their exhibits.  (We must visit again!)  My writing partner Anita had told me that the museum was child-friendly, and exhibits such as this make-your-own sculpture certainly have children in mind...and older people.

I walked through the chinoiserie exhibits again and again.  I learned that Salem was a major shipping port in the China Trade, and though I have pored over many books on early imports and visited a few exhibits, the Peabody's rooms of treasures were astounding.  The kids were in awe too and appreciated the artistry and skill evident in the objects.  They especially loved the intricately carved items, such as a full ivory tusk (second image from right on top row) and this ivory egg whose lines seemed as fine as strands of hair.  Breathtaking.  Tofu Girl favored an exquisite, ornate Moon Bed (fifth image down in the far left column).

We wandered through the Salem cemetery and read the headstones.  Costumed guides answered questions and related fascinating biographical accounts, and they were quite peppy for wearing layers of clothing in the heat.  (I like their pouches or whatever you call those bags they carried for lack of pockets.)

The memorial to those who suffered during the witch trials was serene and touching.  Within an enclosed circular garden, their names have been carved into bench-like stones.

While we wandered in the town of Salem, Peter noticed a woman carrying a bottle of butterbeer.  Huh?  Yep, butterbeer as in Harry Potter, and we discovered this shop which sent the kids over the moon.  They were in good company as the shop was crowded with fans of all ages.  All the wands and owls and broomsticks made the wizarding world seem quite these two would tell you.

On our way out of town, we treated ourselves to tasty frozen yogurt with boba, mochi, and many, many other toppings at Orange Leaf.  This was our first visit to a serve-yourself-yogurt-by-the-pound, and we loved it.  I think it would be worth the drive back for more!

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