Chilly Bike Lanes

9 Dec

Pack of end-of-year actions on street safety anticipates bike, pedestrian work in 2019

 

Ground was boken Wednesday for a Watertown-Cambridge bike path expected to be complete in early summer of 2020. (Photos and video: Tom Meek)

The city will have a more comprehensive schedule of bike infrastructure rollouts early next year, Community Development spokeswoman Bridget Martin said, and the state is joining in with a Dec. 18 meeting to discuss options for bike safety improvements on some of its own roadway in Cambridge.

Even before that, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group is calling for city staff to report back by the end of January on how common speed limit violations are in Cambridge and how the city can better engineer traffic calming; a policy order written with Mayor Marc McGovern, vice mayor Jan Devereux and city councillor Quinton Zondervan will make the request official Monday.

“For example, we know that changing paving surfaces and raising crosswalks helps slow traffic in busy areas,” the group said Thursday, explaining the urgency behind the order: “Over the past 10 years, 16 vulnerable road users – either walking or biking – have been killed in our city. This is a public health crisis.”

The mayor and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale are also set to attend a community meeting next week on pedestrian safety and safer streets, planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Amigos School, 15 Upton St., Cambridgeport.

There have already been several steps taken to separate cyclists from motor vehicles and connect major destinations by bike lane since an October rallyby the bicycle safety group, including a priority bus and bike lane on Mount Auburn Street; separated lanes on Massachusetts Avenue from Central Square through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the Charles River, opened late last month; and Wednesday’s groundbreaking for a Watertown-Cambridge bike path.

The Watertown-Cambridge path, expected to be complete in early summer of 2020, leverages an old railway running parallel to Huron Avenue to better connect cyclists coming from Watertown and West Cambridge to Fresh Pond destinations including the pond, mall and Danehy Park, as well as the Alewife T station and Minuteman Bike Path – good for families and other cyclists unwilling to tangle with vehicles on Huron Avenue and the Fresh Pond Parkway.

The separated bike lanes (alongside a dedicated Boston-bound bus lane) south of Central Square provide more safety in a congested area notorious for its perilous intersections. The project is still undergoing tweaks, said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, though the bulk of the project was completed and opened for use just after Thanksgiving.

Data from the installations will show whether they increase public safety and get more people out of their cars, traffic officials have said.

The bicycle safety group and other advocacy groups, including Livable Streets and the Boston Cyclists Union, have been loud advocates for safer streets since the Cambridge deaths of cyclists Amanda Phillips and Joseph Lavins in 2016. In November, another cyclist was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, across from the Museum of Science, and state Rep. Mike Connolly called on the state to make changes.

A public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Museum of Science – the location may change as the expected size of the audience grows – will discuss the details of Meng Jin’s death and safety improvements from infrastructure and vehicle safeguard perspectives, Connolly said.

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Roma

8 Dec

‘Roma’: Calling on the maid to be a mother when chaos strikes a family and ’70s Mexico

 

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Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican-born director who’s made a reputation of tackling a wide variety of subjects and milieus, hopping from the depths of outer space (“Gravity”) to barren, post-apocalyptic futures (“Children of Men”) and even Harry Potter and Dickens (“Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Great Expectations”), returns to his homeland – where be crafted his signature tale of taboo sex and betrayal, “Y Tu Mamá También” – to forge the semi-autobiographical contemplation “Roma,” something of a nostalgic dream cut with historical incident and unhappy reality. Folks who could never bite into the floaty neorealism of Fellini’s “8½” or “Amarcord” will struggle with the director’s languid sense of place and time, hoping for more of the disruptive chaos of the earthquake, wildfire and class revolt that punctuate the film. The central dilemma of a pregnant housemaid abused and abandoned by her lover and trapped by her unenviable station in life might not jump off the page, but for those who give it time, there are rewards.

The time is the early ’70s (aptly Fellini-esque) in Mexico City, as the camera swirls around the doings of an upper-middle-class family. Dad (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor, works long hours at the hospital while mom (Marina de Tavira) and the housemaid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) maintain the homestead and look after a brood of corrigible youth. Mom and Cleo care, but are not the most effective homemakers. Mom dings up the car every time she takes it out and Cleo allows mounds of canine fecal matter to amass in the driveway – cars skid and people slip on poo, it’s a running thing. The film’s driving factors are the father’s sudden and prolonged absence as well as Cleo’s pregnancy: How she gets pregnant, the father’s reaction and the end result of which provide for surprising turns.

“Roma” moves in subtle, wispy ebbs fueled by undercurrents of class and gender oppression. There’s a poignant yin and yang in every frame. Fate and circumstance factor large too as the action moves from the cloistered streets of the city to the bourgeois countryside, even a muddy hillside slum and ultimately a riot (the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1970). Throughout it all Cleo and Sofia rally frantically to keep the children safe, despite considerable setbacks. “Roma” is clearly a love letter to the women who made Cuarón the person he is today.

The film, shot by Cuarón himself in black and white – an artistic high-dive against the grain but in good company (think “Schindler’s List,” “The White Ribbon” and “The Artist”) – is a scrumptious wonderment to behold. If there’s any subversion, it’s that “Cold War,” another foreign language film in a similar format yet radically different style, could give Cuarón a run in the best-cinematography category.

Artistic merits aside, the key to “Roma” is the patiently quiet and soulful performance by Aparicio. Clea’s fleeting optimism amid repressed pain amid continual reminders of her subservient role are heartwarming and heartbreaking. You want her to break out and do something bold, but in her quiet resolve there’s a deeper dignity that transcends.“Roma” is not about good or bad, but about connecting and persevering.

Prospect

30 Nov

 

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A deep space mission to harvest something called Aurelacs – a highly valued gem that grows in slimy organic sacs that would make David Cronenberg proud – goes horribly wrong in “Prospect,” stranding a father-daughter team in a future where space travel across galaxies is relatively common. Made arty and moody by rising filmmaking duo Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, expanding on their 2014 short of the same name, the themes and atmosphere echo that of “The Martian” (2016), “Interstellar” (2014) and even “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) – if not for the retro space suits, then at least all the heavy breathing.

Pulling from familiar tropes, the landing party (descending in a neat little capsule that looks something like a lunar module or whatever it was Matt Damon cruised in on in “The Martian”) hope to make one big “prospecting” score and move on to a better, less perilous lifestyle. Dad (Jay Duplass, co-director of the 2006 indie surprise, “The Puffy Chair”) and his teenage daughter, Cee (Sophie Thatcher, the film’s revelation) descend on a bucolic planet that’s as verdant, dank and lush as the Pacific Northwest forests were in Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” this year – still, as gorgeous and inviting as it is, you need to be suited and with a full tank of oxygen. 

Funny, as far out as they are and in the middle of nowhere, they barely get started on their quest when they bump into two malcontents who prove none too welcoming. Shortly enough, Cee and the one named Ezra (“Game of Thrones” actor Pedro Pascal) set out to find the the Aurelacs  mother lode (aka the “Queen’s Lair”), despite the nagging matter that Cee’s lander has malfunctioned and Ezra and his cohort have no means off the planet either. For all the riches to be had, folk seem too intently focused on it despite the looming dilemma that there’s no way to realize the spoils. 

You could think of “Prospect” as something akin to this year’s unheralded “The Sisters Brothers,” in which the gold at the center of the quest is little more than a MacGuffin and the characters sail through a lawless terrain with nothing but themselves to rely on for salvation or justice. There’s other beings, mostly human we assume, that Cee and Ezra encounter along the way, including a dominatrix who gets her charges on their knees by blasting distorted disco rhythms into their helmets. It’s a weird world to wind up not-so alone in, and given greater impact by tight, intimate camera work. 

Beyond Thatcher, who pulls the film along the way Anya Taylor-Joy did “The Witch” in 2015, the best part of Caldwell and Earl’s collaboration becomes the hellbent “Godot”-esque mission to nowhere. If you caught “Annihilation” earlier this year, you’d have a pretty good idea of the psychological fabric as the normal plunges headlong into chaos. “Prospect” also moves in bends and inflections that are largely – and pleasantly – unpredictable. Sure, it’s odd that folks amid an evergreen paradise can’t breath the air except in unseemly yurts, but “Prospect” rises on character, mood and a derivative tang that glances just off the penumbra of homage and avoids shameless lifting.

Haunts

30 Nov

Andy’s Diner, home of the Cambridge Classic, has become one itself after 60 years in Porter

Andy’s Diner has been serving food in Cambridge since 1958. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hard to believe Andy’s Diner, the old-school breakfast and lunch spot just north of Porter Square at 2030 Massachusetts Ave., has been slinging eggs and serving coffee since 1958. Over those 60 years there’s barely been a change in process, service or menu. Sure, there was a switch in owners (current owner and chef Jimmy Dres bought it from Andy Sbordone in 1989) and the diner moved locations by a few doors about a decade in, but when you walk through the door, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: There’s a soda fountain-style counter with fixed barstools that swivel, and the walls are decorated with Boston sports heroes from before the Sox reversed the curse or Tom Brady stepped into the GOAT conversation – you know, guys like Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and Steve Grogan.

With exposed brick walls and ’70s-style booths, Andy’s, open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., serves breakfast all day and boasts a basic but vast griddle and deli menu – including homemade soups. Dres describes most of his clientele as loyal, blue-collar workers and regular local families with a peppering of curious collegians seeking a hearty hangover cure or in need of a cozy study session spot-cum-comfort food. 

Andy’s owner and chef Jimmy Dres and server Kelly Butler Pinksen. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If there’s a specialty, it’s the omelettes. Dres has a process adopted carefully from Sbordine. “They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito,” Dres says. Indeed: They are neatly folded, long golden crepes of egg with a perfect distribution of fillings.

Dres, who has an affable, low-key persona, reflects on the joy of serving families with parents who’d been the kids in that booth decades earlier. He’s also appreciative of the people he works with, including Tina Ravanis, one of Sbordine’s granddaughters. During a recent visit, hardworking server Kelly Butler Pinksen – with Dres for more than 15 years – greeted customers by first name and asked if they wanted “the usual.” You really don’t see that in Cambridge so much these days. 

The building Andy’s is in sold recently, and while the rent may have gone up, you can still get a dollar-stretching deal there. The menu, with its “Cambridge Classic” – French toast with two eggs, sausage, bacon and coffee – also has daily specials and rotational items, such as a fish dinner on Fridays. “Everything is fresh and made here,” Pinksen says.

An Andy’s omelette – ““They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito.” (Photo: Tom Meek)

Outside there’s the continual reminders of transformation in the neighborhood, if not the new hotel and Target store in Porter Square then the gaping construction site across the street where the Lechmere Car Wash used to be. Dres shows no signs of slowing amid all the change. Asked if there’ll be a new generation to run the place, he smiles and says only, “It’s a lot of work.”

If a perfectly cooked omelette, low cost and friendly service isn’t enough to draw you in, know that Andy’s also has its own free parking lot – something else that’s not so common in Cambridge this days.

Much around Andy’s has changed, but it remains one of the few true Cambridge classics.

 

Cambridge Delves Inward on Racism

27 Nov

 

A rally at City Hall held Aug. 14, 2017, responded to a violent white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, but only hinted at some of the racial animosity to come in America and Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city launches its Cambridge Digs Deep sessions Wednesday, a program initiated by Mayor Marc McGovern and city councillor Sumbul Siddiqui to spur a citywide conversation about race, diversity and equity. The program partners with the Disruptive Equity Education Project – a professional development organization that specializes in building community and breaking down barriers based on stereotypes and preconceptions. Deep will lend its services to help facilitate and shape the conversation.

Part of the impetus for the series were ongoing concerns raised by the Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, which also get a hearing at Tuesday’s meeting of the School Committee, and recent viral flares of racism including a July confrontation between a Harvard employee and the mother of a biracial child who was playing “noisily” and a public schools employee who used the N-word with a student. Siddiqui also cited a divisive climate created by the administration of President Donald Trump and national events such as last year’s white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville,Virginia, and the migrant caravan seeking asylum at the southern border.

“Cambridge is not truly the progressive utopia that everyone sees it as,” which makes constant examination and reevaluation necessary, McGovern said.

One of the tools Deep and chief executive Darnisa Amante will bring to the table is the exploration of microaggressions versus macroaggressions, as well as the understanding of intent and impact. As illustration, McGovern cited a scenario in which a teacher on the first day of a high school honors English class asked the lone black student if he was “in the right class.”

“The teacher might not think they are racist,” McGovern said, “but there’s an impact.”

Siddiqui, a Pakistani-born, Muslim woman raised in Cambridge affordable housing, added, “It’s also simply how people mispronounce different names or dismiss them as ‘too difficult.’”

McGovern and Siddiqui believe their deep roots in Cambridge will help give the workshops a historical perspective, and said they hope for a dialogue that will “get people outside their comfort zones and begin to see the ways in which identities – such as race, class, gender, religion – impact our lives.” Expected outcomes are a “bit of a work in progress,” McGovern admitted. “We’re going to be learning as we go.”

“We don’t expect a prescribed list of policies,” Siddiqui echoed, “but we’ll be listening.”

Also on the agenda will be issues of class and inclusion made newly prominent by an affordable housing overlay zoning proposal raised by the Envision Cambridge master plan process. 

“Our goal is to ensure that people can talk about race and inequity – and know the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion, race, racism and oppression – in a way that does not ostracize others and/or make anyone feel unwelcome,” Amante said. “We will, however, push with love.”

The initial Cambridge Digs Deep session takes place at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the gymnasium of the Fletcher Maynard Academy, 225 Windsor St. Four more are scheduled for the early part of 2019. The sessions are set up to build on each other, but there is no requirement to have attended previous sessions to be part of the conversation. McGovern and Siddiqui said they hope for a strong turnout and a constructive dialogue.

Green Book

22 Nov

‘Green Book’: Tour through segregated South drives a buddy movie that follows a true tale

 

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Peter Farrelly, best known as half of the brother tandem who made “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) and the chaotically uproarious “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), pulls something of an unexpected about face with “Green Book,” real-life saga about a white man chauffeuring a black man through the Deep South during the early 1960s.

The boss is Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, a deserving Oscar winner for his work in “Moonlight”), a renowned jazz pianist tired of playing the Upper East Side who decides to take his talents south – in part to see the world, and also to make the world see him. His driver, a Bronx-bred Italian-American name Frank Anthony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). Tony is something akin to Robert De Niro’s fat Jake LaMotta – boy can he eat, he’s not one to take too much shit and he’s got a mouth. It’s “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) in reverse in so many ways, with its racist backdrop still far too similar to what pervades our country now. Once difference is that the current “green book” is an app with historical insights; from 1936 to 1966, it was a vital guide to safe spots in the segregated South.

For the most part, the film’s a buddy bonding road movie, as the aloof intellectual and motor-mouthed lout with a heart of gold break down cultural and personal barriers. At its best, Tony doesn’t judge Don Shirley after bailing him out of several compromising and potentially explosive situations where the jazz pianist dips into the bottle too much and wanders outside the lines. At its worst, Tony lectures Shirley about “his people,” Motown stars the classical musician hasn’t heard (Little Richard and Aretha) and the virtues of fried chicken – a cringeworthy scene, if just for the risky proximity of grease to a neatly pressed white shirt. 

Farrelly lays it on a bit at times where films such as “Hidden Figures” (2016) “Miss Daisy” and “The Butler” (2013) respectfully observe and allow character and history to make points on their own terms. His actors, though, do a great job selling it, and forge a genuine chemistry, despite such overwrought handling – Ali welling with dignified resolve and Mortensen adding a ton of weight and tackling new emotional territory with a screwball sense of humor. Shirley has to stay in seedier hotels and can’t use the same restroom as white people, even though he’s the allegedly well-respected main attraction. Ultimately there’s the big end-of-tour performance in Birmingham at a white-glove country club (where Nat King Cole was once assaulted). The maitre’d, trying to appeal to Tony, explains that when the world champion Boston Celtics came to town, “even the big one didn’t get to eat in the club” after polite use of such phrases as “it’s a tradition” and “that’s how we do things down here.” Sign of the times, and one not to be forgotten.

Of all things Kurosawa

20 Nov

Brattle’s full week of ‘Kurosawa in History’ shows how West was won by East’s auteur

 

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One thing I dislike when reading about film: reviews or other critical pieces infused with the word “I.” It’s not about you, it’s about the art, and letting your words about the art convert that “I.”

That said, here “I” go – and I promise to get to Akira Kurosawa, but indulge me for a moment.

Growing up, I wasn’t really that big a film fan. Granted we had only three channels the aerial could catch, and living in a town of 3,000 you had to drive two towns away to find our single-screen theaters, which didn’t get “Star Wars” until six months after its opening. (One was just an auditorium in a town hall.) So for me as a kid, film was mostly John Wayne and Godzilla, and while I couldn’t get enough of the man in the rubber suit, I didn’t like the former much – he seemed phony and too righteous, when the world around me was a darker, less black and white place. You knew things didn’t get resolved by some beefy human with a twangy drawl riding in at high noon, guns blazing.  

The one other movie during this era that grabbed me was “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). Not only was Clint Eastwood’s no-name badass cool and scruffily handsome, he answered Wayne with moral ambiguity; in those spaghetti westerns the good and the righteous often got their asses kicked, hard. Even with its quirk and dark, tongue-in-cheek humor, Sergio Leone’s cornerstone western felt genuine, authentic from the top down the first time I saw it – and it still does today, hundreds of screenings later. (Though over time there would become many Wayne films I would came to adore – “The Shootist,” “Stagecoach,” perhaps mostly “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.”)

Flash forward to college. As part of my English major at a small liberal arts school, film was on my eclectic list of elective, dubbed “clapping for credit” and quite popular with athletes (I’ll let you all guess my two sports) because the professor, a man named Roger Farrand used to lecture us for a scant half-hour, then roll film; by the time the lights came up, there was maybe five to 10 people remaining of the 30-plus people enrolled. He loved film so much and was so excited by it that if you paid attention during his preamble you could walk out and still safely get a B – he told you everything you needed to know for a quiz or paper. Continue reading