I Found The Gown

vows8.jpgSeveral years ago I was in New Jersey for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. The day before the wedding, a hurricane hit the Eastern corridor and so our 5-hour journey took us nearly 11 hours. When we finally reached our hotel, we found the largest bed I have ever seen and a welcome box from our wonderful hosts filled with personalized cookies. After hours in the car, it was such a relief to put on a dressing gown and relax.

While channel hoping, I landed on TLC and saw a wedding show was on. Usually I skip over Say Yes to the Dress but I noticed that this show had a different name—I  Found the Gown —and kept watching. Within minutes I was hooked. While Say Yes to the Dress featured expensive gowns in the gleaming decadence of Kleinfeld’s New York boutique, I Found the Gown took place at Vows salon in Massachusetts and showcased bargain designer wedding dresses. And so together with my then-boyfriend, I sat on the giant bed, eating cookies in the shape of New Jersey state, and watched episodes of I Found the Gown till I fell asleep.

Being, frankly, quite cheap by nature, I was overjoyed to consider the possibility of one day getting a bargain when purchasing a wedding dress. Not only did I witness the wedding of one of my favorite couples that weekend, but I knew where my first stop would be when I got engaged. And so, two years later when my then-boyfriend became my husband, it was time to call Vows. Vows1Reviews of the store described the experience at Vows as rushed and harried. However, as someone who previously sat on dirty floors at both Michaels and Target in order to reach bottom shelf bargains, this did not phase me—if anything it made the challenge all the more exciting. With my Mum in tow, we headed to Watertown ready to use elbows if necessary to get a dress. On arrival however, Vows could not have been more serene. We parked in the “engaged” parking spots and went into the store where our assistant met us.vows6While Vows is an authorized retailer for a handful of designers whose gowns can be custom ordered, the real attraction of the store is the sample sale designer gowns. As they are samples, there is often just one of each gown in the store and the inventory changes often. Each gown in stored in a clear garment bag and the shop is arranged by style–mermaids to the left, ball gowns to the right, etc. You are given time to peruse the floor and select the gowns you think you might like to try on. However, with all the dresses are stored in garment bags it can be hard to really tell what a dress is like. On two occasions dresses sprang out like jack-in-the-boxes when I unzipped the bag, revealing far more bling and poof than I was looking for.vows3Bit-by-bit we narrowed our options down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and try different styles. There were only two other brides in the store, and we stayed much longer than the allotted one-hour appointment time. I imagine the weekend appointments are likely more crowded, but our Thursday morning appointment was bliss.  vows7I came to the store looking for a ball gown with short sleeves, so how I came to leave with a strapless trumpet style remains one of the great magical mysteries of the bridal salon. While looking for dresses, the ruching on a Romona Keveza gown had caught my eye, and so I added it to my sleeved selections. As I took it out of the bag the beautiful French silk tulle puffed out, and I felt a little rush of excitement. There was no bling just acres of delicate tulle and English net. When I put the dress on, I knew it was a contender. As I walked out into the viewing area and saw my Mum’s face I understood this was something special. With a veil on, I let out the audible gasp I had heard so many times on bridal shows. This was my gown.

vows5 copyAfter several moments parading up and down, taking photos and staring into the mirror, we had to decide what to do. With only one dress in the store, I did not want to let it go, yet I have never been one for quick decisions. We opted to put a deposit down to hold the gown for 5 days. During that time I went to another salon and tried on the sleeved ball gown I had originally been interested in, and by sending photos to my friends and family crowd sourced opinion on the gown. Romona got the most votes. Five days later, Vows kindly let me come in and try the gown with heels. It was still my gown.

And so I found a gown that was $400 under my budget and $3000 less than it originally retailed for. It was the first step in my wedding bargain hunting, and I cannot think of a better gown or place for me. The staff at Vows were incredibly helpful, and I went on to order my bridesmaids dresses with them too. There is a further discount if you order both wedding dress and bridesmaids gown at the store.VowsCome January when it was time to begin dress alterations, I finally collected my gown and went to see Anahit, the seamstress Vows recommended. The world of the seamstress is a timeless, female-dominated empire. In an age of mechanization, it is one of the few arenas in which handcraft remains king. It is a world I would have been entirely unaware if if not for the wedding dress. I felt privileged to have entered it, if only for a few brief hours.

Like the business it houses, the unassuming storefront seems to belie age. Faux ferns adorn the entranceway, and aging plastic wedding bouquets with faded glittered petals sit in delicate gold vases on the store counter. There is no website or email, no credit cards are accepted, and all bills are calculated by hand on carbon paper. The rows of thank you cards showing pictures of smiling brides are the only nod to the contemporary world outside.vows4For my first fitting, my husband helped to carry the garment bag into the store and was almost instantly sent away. An assistant whisked the dress out of my hands, and directed me to remove my shoes and stand on the towel in front of me. Walking along a carpet of white towels, I moved to the seating area and watched as Anahit pinned and repositioned the lace applique onto another bride’s intricate gown. Like many Vows customers, the bride had purchased a dress, which was too big for her. Anahit had altered it to her size and now begun the painstaking work of reapplying lace details along the seams. As the seamstress worked her magic, kneeling on the floor with a mouth full of pins, the bride offered frequent suggestions as to other alterations she felt could be done to the back of the gown. With my limited knowledge of sewing, I could see that her suggestions were impossible. The seamstress’ task, I suspect, is not always an easy one.

When it came time for my fitting, Anahit welcomed me with enthusiastic greetings and congratulations in her lilting Eastern European prose. She ohhed and ahhed as I took my dress out of the bag, and knew it was a Romona Keveza straight away. “Honey,” she said as I put on my gown, “you have the butt my previous bride wishes she had.” And instantly I loved her.

During our next three fittings Anahit continued to call me Honey. Despite the thousands of dresses she has altered she still delighted in beautiful gowns and exquisite fabrics. She seemed genuinely excited to be working on my gown and confided that she was glad to work with tulle as the royal wedding created a surge in lace. Together we designed a removable shawl to add to the top of the dress. As she put it, “we will add Oscar De La Renta to this Romona Keveza.” When it came time to cut the dress she said a wedding blessing as her scissors snipped away at the tulle. On more than one occasion she grabbed my phone and took pictures of my dress, with instructions that I must send the photos to my mother. At the final appointment, Anahit made the previous bride wait to see me in my finished gown. She was, quite simply, a supremely talented, reassuring eccentric.Tessa and Aaron's wedding at St Nicholas; Church, Pyrford and Ham Polo ClubOn the day of my wedding I accessorized my Romona Keveza dress with the tiara my Mum wore when she married my father, as well as pearls given to me by my Mum and aunt. I wanted a ball gown for a classic look, but I found it in a strapless trumpet gown of English net and French tulle. My husband cried as I walked down the aisle, and when we got outside he said the dress was Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly all in one, making my every dress dream come true.

In a blush pink gown, that bride from New Jersey three years ago now looked exquisite as one of my bridesmaids, unaware of what an important role her personalized wedding cookies played in my dress selection. Because of her, I found the gown.vows2

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Mission Impossible in a Sofa Store

Strange as it sounds, furniture stores remind me of home. A Christmas at home in England wouldn’t be Christmas without watching the plethora of sofa ads, preferably with a glass of mulled wine in hand, and asking out loud who buys these terrible products. “There’s not one there, I would buy” is a frequent outburst in our house, often accompanied by “I wouldn’t give it house-room”—one of my late grandmother’s famed phrases.

When I first saw Jordan’s Furniture ads, I knew I had found the American equivalent. Jordan’s is a large New England furniture company that takes its local links seriously. The store’s owner is a dedicated Red Sox fan, and watching him promise free furniture if the Sox win the World Series is now part of the ritual of the New England Spring. An enthusiastic balding man with a silver ponytail, Jordan boasts about his stores’ current offers with great gusto in low budget local tv commercials. He is also not really called Jordan, I recently discovered his name is Eliot. However, to me, and I expect most of New England, he will always be Jordan.

The mysterious allure of Jordan’s Furniture deepened last Christmas when I heard Jordan (ok, Eliot) on the radio inviting people to come to the store to purchase the famous Jordan’s blueberry muffins! As I was driving at the time, I had to wait till I got home to investigate this properly. I suspect the powers that be at Jordan’s were inspired by Rowan Atkinson’s observation that “this is so much more that a bag” in Love Actually, as Jordan’s really appeared to be “so much more than a store.” In addition to the famed blueberry muffins, the store website promised an enchanted village for Christmas, and a light and water spectacular with over 9,000 water nozzles.

Having spent most of my childhood holidays in the Isle of Wight where we stoically eschewed Waltzing Waters as a matter of principle, my natural instinct was to avoid Jordan’s at all cost, however, a final attraction caught my attention: the IMAX cinema. I know this sounds like I made it up, but I swear it’s real. Our local furniture store contains an IMAX cinema!

Further investigation revealed that the 8 Story-high screen offered 12,000 watts of “mind boggling surround sound,” all brought to you while in the comfort of a memory foam Tempur-Pedic seat. I would love to have been in the marketing meetings when they dreamed this idea up. I can picture the conversation at which two executives said if we could get people to watch a movie in a memory foam chair then surely they will buy a memory foam mattress. The logic almost works, and yet somehow it doesn’t.

By this point, however, I was hooked; I had no choice but to experience this cinema for myself. Hearing that the new Mission Impossible film was playing, we decided that this would be suitably epic for the Jordan’s big screen. We drove to the store, parked in the ginormous car park and entered the revolving glass doors.

Nothing, not even my careful consultation of Jordan’s website, prepared me for the sight that met us. To our left was a Jelly Bean factory, to our right a trapeze school, and straight-ahead a giant mechanical moving statue of Wally, the Red Sox mascot (a cleaner version of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch). Alarmingly the green creature seemed to have taken a Yankees player hostage in his giant hand, rather like King Kong and Fay Wray.phdpiefillingjordans1With some understandable trepidation, we passed under the mascot’s giant arm and found ourselves in a very normal looking furniture store. We followed small signs for the IMAX through rooms of beds, patio furniture displays, living room set-ups, sofas, and vases. The walk seemed to go on forever, and we both really doubted whether the IMAX would ever materialize. However, eventually we passed our final settee and found ourselves at a popcorn stand. We purchased tickets and entered into the cinema.phdpiefillingjordans4Utterly bemused, we discussed what had just happened. Why was there a Jelly Bean factory in a furniture store? Had Michael Jackson designed this bizarre play land? How were people walking through rooms of furniture to get to a cinema like it was a perfectly normal thing to do?

Our discussion was interrupted as the room went dark and Eliot’s giant face appeared on the 8-Story screen and his 12,000-Watt voice boomed through the cinema. This was, we were promised, the most comfortable seat we would ever sit in and the most impressive sound we would ever hear. Eliot proudly explained that our seats were not merely seats; they were “Butt Kickers” with built in subwoofers. The thought of Eliot’s voice so close to me was quite unnerving.phdpiefillingjordans3The film, however, was excellent, and fully deserving of the supersized screen and subwoofers. The storyline was gripping, I only had to close my eyes a couple of times, and the shots of London and its skyline were all the better for the 8-Story projection. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, we made our way out of the cinema and into a display of grey-striped armchairs before eventually returning to the entrance and the giant green monster. We exited the store by passing underneath a statue of George Washington on his horse made entirely out of Jelly Beans….phdpiefillingjordans2Blinking in the bright Boston sunlight we struggled to make sense of what we had just experienced. Suffice to say we will not be buying a subwoofer or a Tempur-Pedic mattress, but we might just be back to this most bizarre of institutions. If DFS or Land of Leather were to offer similar such experiences in England, maybe I would move from mocking their ads to visiting their stores. In the mean time, I watch Eliot’s ads with new appreciation, armed with the knowledge that behind the unassuming black clothes and greying ponytail there is a real American eccentric. I’m not convinced this fantasy world helps to sell furniture, but thank you for the show….

The Dress

phdpfwedding4Last month I thought I might drown in tulle. Having got engaged the month before, we were now preparing for our civil ceremony in Boston. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted my dress to be like, and as my vision was unavailable in stores I took it upon myself to make my wedding dress. For the duration of late June our apartment looked somewhat akin to Miss Havisham’s dining room, but instead spider webs, blush tulle draped every surface. Crossing the floor became a dangerous assault course of pin-dodging, and I even pulled tulle remnants out of the bathroom drain.

The project took 3 seasons of Madmen to complete. Whole days were lost to hemming and the high temperatures outside meant that I kept the curtains closed to try and keep the apartment cool. And there, alone in the darkened room, I sewed and cut, and pinned and unpicked, and wondered if I was in fact in danger of becoming Miss Havisham.

Thankfully, these fears were unwarranted: opening the curtains and vacuuming quickly removed all traces of the Dickensian spinster, and instead a happy bride with a fabulously fifties-inspired outfit emerged from the piles of tulle, thread, and pattern paper.

For the skirt I used Simplicity 1427 View C. I have never made a skirt before and this one was an ambitious start as it calls for nearly 14 yards of gathered tulle. The reviews I read online were not generally very complimentary about the pattern design and instructions, and it is certainly a complicated and time-consuming procedure. I actually think the design is rather clever as the skirt waistband is constructed of two separate yolk pieces each with approximately 7 yards of gathered tulle to ensure that there is not too much bulk around the waistline.phdpfwedding6

The tulle is sewn onto a circular underskirt requiring nearly 5 yards of fabric. The woman at the fabric store balked when I told her it was all for a skirt, and I should have responded to her hesitancy. After sewing 5 yards of rolled hem, (a process that took nearly 4 episodes of Madmen) I constructed the skirt and tried it on. You could easily have fitted 3 of me in the skirt. Foolishly I persevered, telling myself that once the elastic was added this three-person skirt would shrink to my size. However, elastic does not have magical powers. I tried on the skirt complete with the first seven yards of tulle and was horrified. There was extra fabric everywhere and it was clear that that my hips did not need another 7 yards of padding, as they already had quite enough.

After a rather tense day of wondering how I would ever get this skirt to work, I realized deconstruction was the key. I carefully unpicked all the tulle from the skirt so that I could attack the underskirt with scissors. I removed about 2 yards of the underskirt and felt a stab of pain as I cut apart my carefully rolled hem. I also abandoned the duel-yoke construction and opted instead for a mere 7 yards of tulle on my skirt. To those of you brave enough to tackle this skirt yourself, I would suggest ignoring the underskirt pattern and instead constructing a circular skirt based on your actual waist measurements- no one needs 5 yards of fabric on an underskirt.

With nearly half the underskirt removed, I once again sewed the tulle to the skirt and added the elastic to the waistband. With bated breath I looked in the mirror and felt much relief to see that I no longer looked liked the Michelin Man, and instead had achieved the Fifties silhouette I was seeking.

For the top I chose to make the bodice of one of my favorite dresses to make, the Emery Dress by Christine Haynes. As I have made this dress several times I knew it would fit, however, I had to add a couple of inches to the bodice so that I could tuck into the skirt. I also chose to shorten the sleeves by several inches to make cap sleeves. For the top I used Michael Miller’s Confetti Border in Confection, which is from the Glitz collection. Michael Miller is a dream to sew with, and every time I use his fabric I swear I will never sew with cheap cotton again. To accommodate the print, I had to cut on the cross grain even though the Emery pattern is supposed to be on the grain. It did not seem to effect the fit too much, it was just a smidgen tighter than if cut on the grain.

The Emery dress has an invisible zipper and I included this in my bodice. As invisible zippers are joined together at the bottom this did mean that the top had to go on over my head. I plan to add a skirt to this Emery bodice after the wedding so that I can continue to wear it.

phdpfwedding5For the dress sash, I went to M&J Trimmings in NYC. The store is a mecca of ribbon with floor to ceiling ribbon displays in every color and texture imaginable. I could happily have stayed there for hours. Exercising some restraint, I purchased three yards of blush and gold ribbon. I wore the gold during the day and the blush sash when we went for dinner the night of our wedding.

phdpfwedding1Unlike the hapless Miss Havisham, I was not left alone on my wedding day. Instead my groom cried when he first saw me in my dress. My sister sent me a beautiful gold and blush tote bag from England, and my husband bought me a blush Kate Spade handbag as a wedding gift, so I was well accessorized. The dress was a big undertaking, but when a little girl in our hotel ran towards her Mum and told her she had seen a princess, every pinprick was worth it. For one day, I was Jackie O, and Belle, and every cover girl of Life magazine rolled into one, and I absolutely loved it.phdpfwedding3

04.15.13

phdpiefillingbostonstrong1 It was months before I could bear to pick up Allies at War again. Although it wasn’t the book’s fault, it felt as if the mere act of reading it would once again transform my world—suddenly making the mundane the extraordinary—as had happened that day.

“Attention passengers” announcements are nothing extraordinary on Boston’s public transport. Indeed, as I heard the familiar voice I only briefly paused from reading to groan. Snapping the book closed I begrudgingly left the train as it pulled into the station, expecting that once again the T had encountered a problem. As I stood on the platform at Kenmore waiting for a new train, the transformation began. Transit workers started ushering people out of the station, disrupting the usual lackadaisical motions of frustrated passengers. No longer was this an ordinary day in which the T breaks down and commuters are disgruntled—it was fast becoming one of the most frightening days of my life.

From the gossip around me I gathered that there was a bomb threat at Kenmore. It seemed odd then that we had been made to get out at Kenmore and were now standing in the path of this bomb. Wanting to leave the crowds I headed away from the station and in the growing confusion found myself in the marathon, literally in amongst the runners. I called my boyfriend and told him about the bomb scare, and continued to weave my way through the runners. All the while heading further into downtown Boston.

The bomb threat was not in Kenmore Square. I should have stayed there. My boyfriend, watching events unfold on the TV, called me to break the news that two bombs had gone off at the finishing line, two blocks from where I was standing. Somehow he tried to keep me calm. It must have been awful for him seeing the carnage, knowing I was right there. Thankfully he was also able to get hold of my Mum before she saw the news in England.

I first felt real panic when black SUVs emerged from every direction. It did not seem possible that so many black cars could have been in the city. Where had they been hiding? It is cliché to say it felt like a film, but it was my only frame of reference in this chaotic new world. In the movies, swarming black SUVs with tinted windows generally denotes danger. From ramps and underpasses, alleyways and parking lots, shiny black cars seemed to swarm like bees. Their black exterior starkly contrasted the sea of colorful neon Lycra-clad athletes, which I had somehow become a part of.

While the city of Boston came together in remarkable ways after the marathon tragedy, during the event itself I was alone except for my prayers. In the climate of rumor and fear, everyone became an enemy. Tales of unexploded bombs spread like wildfire. At one point I was squashed up against a truck when someone yelled for us to evacuate the area, as there was another bomb in the truck. I had never considered my own mortality in such a direct way before and desperately prayed to live.

I had to get out of the city, but to do so I had to get through the finish line area. In trying to maneuver my way through an increasingly alien and hostile city, even the police seemed to be against me as they blocked pedestrian access and closed roads. I got turned around and rerouted so many times that I totally lost my bearings, becoming thoroughly lost in a city that once felt like home. Phone calls and texts stopped, and the angry dissonant beep of my phone’s dying battery magnified my eerie solitude.

There are still parts of the day that I do not remember. I know I must have walked along one particular two-mile stretch of road, but I have no recollection of doing so. My sense of time is similarly vague. Thoroughly lost, I joined a group of evacuated hotel guests and a wedding party standing in the street. Watching the bride shivering I questioned what was this all about. What had this woman done to deserve the horror and confusion that now engulfed her perfect day? After an undetermined amount of time I was able to get hold of my boyfriend, who gave me directions through the now unfamiliar city towards the train station and the promise of home.

As I walked, I repeated his directions over and over in my head, scared of losing this new knowledge. The mantra kept me focused on my task, and prevented thoughts of what dangers the city still held. As I neared the station I found myself in a deserted alley, silent except for the sound of my thumping heart beat. My heart felt like it would come through my chest as I ran terrified from a pile of trash. In a world transformed, a discarded pizza box could seem like a bomb; the mundane could now be the extraordinary.

Once in the station I was struck by how ordinary life seemed. The familiar departure boards, hot dog stand, and ticket machines were all unaware of the chaos of the world outside. As I got onto the train my phone rang. Looking down at the screen, I saw “Mummy” in the caller ID. Frantically pushing buttons, I screamed down the phone desperate to talk. The call failed to connect and tears streamed down my face as all the terror and fear of the day crystalized in a primordial need to hear her voice.

As soon as I got back to my house I plugged in my phone and collapsed in a heap in the corner. I called my Mum and in incoherent breathless sobs began to vocalize all that I had felt and experienced that day. In my 800 square-foot apartment I sat crouched under a side table for a few hours; a small place of safety from which to confront and comprehend the dangerous world.

phdpiefillingbostonstrong3The next few days in Boston were uneasy. Allies at War sat on my desk unopened, trains bypassed the finish line area, and police and National Guard stood watch. Our Episcopalian church worshiped at the Jewish synagogue while its own church remained inaccessible. The city came together in grief, and worked to return to the peace and security of a predictable world.

Five days after the marathon the city came to a standstill once again. We all remained inside watching the police chase in Watertown. When the blood-soaked, skinny boy eventually emerged from the boat, it did not seem possible that one so small and insignificant could harbor so much hate. The nightmare, it seemed, was over.

For me, the nightmares continued for months. Visiting my Mum in Las Vegas in May, I woke up drenched in sweat after terrorists chased me through sleep. It still occasionally happens, but with much less frequency. Slowly life became normal. In time “Attention Passengers” notifications became an everyday frustration, not a terrifying reminder. I did eventually finish Allies at War and the world remained stable. At home with my boyfriend, I watched the Red Sox win the World Series, and later joined the crowds standing in clouds of red and white confetti at the Victory Parade. Sport helped the city heal. While I wasn’t physically hurt on 04.15.13, I was one of the many who were Boston Strong.phdpiefillingbostonstrong2

The King

phdpiefillingburger1I used to be a vegetarian, but then I went on a road trip. The phrase sounds like it should be a car bumper sticker, and I am sure I am not alone in experiencing this moment of conversion. On the road I discovered that Memphis barbeque cannot be approximated with tofu or mushroom fiber. I learned that the BLT at IHOP coupled with a glass of milk is the perfect antidote to road-weary eyes. Journeying through the South taught me that the ham hock is what makes New Orleans’ collards greens, and mac and cheese is considered a vegetable in Mississippi. After eleven years I ate my first burger watching a baseball game in Cape Cod and wondered why I ever stopped. I don’t know if it was the sound of the bat, the setting sun, or the sweet smell of popcorn, but this burger was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Each bite took me further into an idealized American Dream of picket fences, barbeques, and Little Leagues.

This year I plan to eat at and blog about Boston food institutions. Last week to begin my quest, I gallantly set off in several feet of snow wearing four layers, two scarves, a couple of pairs of socks and foot warmers in my boots, all to eat a burger. But this was not any burger. Last week marked a new chapter in my life as a meat-eater-formally-known-as-vegetarian as I ate “The King.” Boston Burger Company is often touted as the home of Boston’s best burger. They offer a range of options including the conch burger, the deep-fried burger, the mac and cheese burger, and their most famous offering: “The King.” The burger pays homage to Elvis in meat form, and is the stuff of burger legend in New England.

As a child I was led to believe that burgers killed Elvis. I realize now that it was the combination of drugs, bad diet, obesity, and an enlarged heart that killed the King, however my younger self believed that Elvis had literally eaten burgers until he died. “The King” burger brings together all the King’s favorite foods- bacon, peanut butter, and cinnamon fried bananas all on top of an Angus beef patty. Certainly if burgers had killed the King, this is one he would have enjoyed eating.

I prepped for this auspicious culinary challenge by not eating lunch and drinking lots of water. We sensibly decided to forgo fries or deep-fried Mac and Cheese and focus on the task in hand. When the burger arrived I must admit I was intimidated. The peanut butter smeared all over the mayonnaise’s regular spot on the bun confused me, and the smell of cinnamon sugar jarred against the smell of beef. However, I put the lid on the bun and decided to man up and eat.phdpiefillingburger3I am embarrassed about the speed with which I was able to eat this Memphis-inspired concoction. Indeed, I finished before my boyfriend. The burger was not easy to handle, and the sticky peanut butter and fried banana combo tended to drip. I used at least five napkins. However, somehow the burger-peanut-butter-bacon-banana combination worked really well. Perhaps a little too well I might say, as while other burgers have beaten me, when it came to “The King” I was victorious. Looking at the empty plate in front of me I was rather ashamed that I had eaten it all, but I think it is because we didn’t have fries…

phdpiefillingburger2Burgers demolished we decided to share the next round, an “Elvis” frappe consisting of bacon, peanut butter, and banana in milkshake form with whipped cream. I guess our thinking was why just eat bacon when you could drink bacon? Again, it was delicious. My inner vegetarian cried tears of shame.

As we headed home I began to grow ever more concerned about the apparent lack of impact this colossal burger had had on me. I just felt a little tired, but not even necessarily uncomfortably full. I fell asleep on the train and my boyfriend woke me up when we got home, not an unusual occurrence after an evening out. However, we had gone to dinner at 5.30 and it was only now 7 o’clock. Walking back from the train I apparently walked so slowly I was in danger of walking backwards. I also stopped speaking so as to devote all remaining energy to walking. By 8pm I was fast asleep in bed. The next day I never felt hungry, and did not eat for the entire day. Thankfully it seems the burger did beat me after all.

I don’t think “The King” will be my regular Boston Burger Company burger. I know my limits and don’t want to follow Elvis to early burger-related death, and I’m more of a mac and cheese kind of a girl anyway. However, I feel several percentages more American for my burger-eating achievements. Anyone who wants to feel similarly patriotic should head to Boston Burger Company.

Halloween on Beacon Hill

phdpfhalloween1When I was a child Bonfire Night dominated in England, not Halloween. Traditionally people hold bonfires and let off fireworks on November 5th, to commemorate Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up parliament and assassinate King James, in 1605. Halloween was in contrast quite a scary occasion, it wasn’t for small children, but was instead typified by teenagers in masks making good on the promise of trick or treat. Our porch got covered in eggs and flour on a couple of occasions when we did not provide any treats. Gradually Halloween has eclipsed Bonfire Night at home. I wish this were not the case as Bonfire Night was one of our few distinctly British celebrations. Without the equivalent of July 4th and pitiful little celebration of St Georges Day, Bonfire Night was our only annual historical celebration. Having spent a considerable portion of my academic career exploring war and postwar Anglo-American relations, I think I am more sensitive to the spread of Halloween. I am reminded of wartime complaints about the G.I.s being “overpaid, over sexed, and over here.” Like those earlier Britons troubled by the spread of nylons, chocolate, and chewing gum, I am similarly moved by the encroaching American imperialism of Halloween. I very much doubt our grandparents would have stood for it.

It will therefore likely come as a shock to learn that I like Halloween over here. In the proper setting and ambiance it is quite magical, and nowhere does it better than Beacon Hill. I took my older sister here for Halloween a couple of year ago, and she reminisces about it frequently. This year my Mum, my boyfriend, and my younger sister came with me. Beacon Hill is one of Boston’s most pricey and most beautiful locations. Its brick houses, tree-lined avenues, and cobbled streets exude a sense of peace and majesty, and look much more like Europe than America. One of my best friends used to live on the Hill, and through her I got to go to various Beacon Hill Civic Association events with pearl-wearing women called Bunny, Mitsy, and other suitably upper-class designations. It is the Bunnys of the world that make Beacon Hill what it is today, and so I fully support their efforts.

For Halloween the whole area is car-free from 4-9 so that children can “Trick or Treat” safely. In place of cars the streets fill with young families, strollers, smoke machines, pumpkins, and small costumed-children struggling to carry their pumpkin-shaped treat baskets. The decorations in Beacon Hill make it a must-see if you are in Boston over the Halloween period. Rather than table-scape, the residents of Beacon Hill street-scape, draping whole houses with faux spider webs, and giant spiders, adding green filters to porch light-bulbs, covering windows with elaborate crepe paper shadows, hanging ghosts and lanterns from tree branches, and constructing grave yards in their gardens. The cobbled alleyways and low hanging trees provide the perfect canvas for decorating, and the whole effect is quite breathtaking. I doubt even Martha could do any better.

phdpfhalloween2At each doorway the residents gather, often perched on stoop steps, with gigantic barrels of chocolate and sweets. They welcome their costumed guests with kindness and excitement, “Captain America!,” one woman exclaimed to a costumed-clad visitor, “We’ve been waiting for you to save the day, all night!” Up and down the streets little Minnie Mice, Buzzes and Woodys, Elsas and Annas, elephants and tigers, ghosts and ghouls, superheroes and spacemen, even lobsters and pots, the Titanic, and a Boston Duck Bus wandered, selecting a piece of candy at each house. Walking along you could hear a chorus of “You’re Welcomes” following the children. There was no eggs or flour on Beacon Hill, just thank yous.

Through the open doors and lit windows you get to see right into the mansions of Beacon Hill. Glimpsing the ornate paintings, the occasional library, or a state of the art kitchen is almost as fun as looking at the decorations. Two years ago, we saw John Kerry standing outside his Beacon Hill home handing out candy to children and shaking hands with their parents. This year, there was no Secretary of State to be seen, but his wife sat on her doorstep giving out chocolate. In the garden opposite, a giant inflatable black cat billowed in the cool night air. Halloween is a great leveler and the children, not the multi-million dollar houses or their occupants, are the stars.

My mum and I walked around mesmerized by this slice of American Pie: when not usurping British heritage it is quite divine. If Currier and Ives ever tired of Christmas, they would have found ample subjects in this small corner of Boston on October 31st. Rather than a celebration of death, in Beacon Hill, Halloween celebrates childhood, families, good manners, and community. Maybe nylons and gum aren’t so bad after all.