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Turkeys take over Harvard Square

1 May

Turkeys take over Harvard Square traffic island, prime real estate amid top shopping and dining

By Tom MeekThursday, April 29, 2021

The turkeys that have made themselves at home on a traffic island in Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

There are fewer students hanging out in Harvard Square, but in their stead is a trio known on social media as Larry, Moe and Curley Joe – or as Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, or Tom Sr., Tom Jr. and Tom III: Three turkeys now at home for three weeks on the traffic island at Massachusetts Avenue and Harvard Street, across from the Hong Kong and Grafton Street eateries.

The trio looks to be two toms (mature males) and a perhaps very young jake (immature male) or hen. Toms are easy to tell by their size and majestic splay of tail feathers, as well as the telltale blue-white head coloring, turkey beard – the tuft of a hair jutting from the breast – and big red wattle dangling from the chin, which is both a display piece to attract mates and a sweat gland because turkeys, like dogs, don’t sweat.

The birds seem happy to just hang out on the 30-foot triangle mid-triangle. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The birds seem happy to just hang out on the 30-foot triangle, with the dominant male puffing to make a threatening display as he swaggers over to any gawker who gets too close to his mates. April is the middle of turkey mating season, and males can get aggressive. Last year in Somerville, a turkey known as Mayor Turkatone was euthanized after too many attacks on humans, called the fault of people who kept feeding him. The city and state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife implore residents not to, but also to not let them intimidate you – while staying aware that their claws are sharp and strong.

Besides digging in gardens and gobbling ghoulishly from roosts that are often overhead – they can fly but not very well – turkeys’ biggest impact on city dwellers is blocking traffic with their too-leisurely saunters across streets. Folks snapping pictures just add to the spectacle and delay. (Though one of those might be Brookline photographer Aynsley Floyd, who’s working on a “Turkey Town” documentary about the challenges of living with wild turkeys.)

Turkeys, seen as a symbol of old New England, were largely extinct here 50 years ago, when conservationists decided to capture some of the birds from upstate New York and rewild them here in the 1970s. The demise of small farms and deep eradication of apex predators (catamounts and wolves, coyotes and foxes – now making a comeback as well) helped their resurgence, with between between 30,000 and 35,000 estimated statewide; in recent years they’ve been all but ubiquitous, though neither Animal Control nor state wildlife experts would guess how many turkeys live in Cambridge.

“Anyone who says they know how many turkeys there are in any town in Massachusetts, let alone Cambridge, is selling you a story,” said biologist David Scarpitti, of MassWildlife. “The number is really not important. What is important is how the density and abundance of turkeys affects residents and their position relative to what we call ‘cultural carrying capacity.’ What this means is how many turkeys are people willing to deal with before it becomes a nuisance and undesirable.”

Vax Appointments made easy by Parent initiative

14 Mar

In overcoming obstacles of vaccination signups, parent volunteers were teachers’ secret weapon

By Tom MeekFriday, March 12, 2021

A sidewalk chalking at The Maria L. Baldwin School in the Agassiz neighborhood shows “love and encouragement” from parents, educators say. (Photo: Tom Meek)

News that educators and staff were eligible for Covid-19 vaccines as of Thursday was welcomed by school district employees, but didn’t address the dreaded task of trying to sign up and actually get an appointment. The horror stories are well documented from Phase 1, when seniors waited hours to sign up, then saw appointments vanish before their eyes as the time to book expired before they could enter required information.

At The Maria L. Baldwin School in the Agassiz neighborhood, that burden was lifted by an initiative led by parents Amanda Steenhuis, Nina Farouk and Angela Wong.

To date, the trio have booked appointments for more than 30 of the school’s 90-person faculty and staff, putting together a toolkit of best practices, hacks and key contacts with a central spreadsheet to help with the mobilization. Steenhuis called the work “relatively easy” – but scoring appointments means waking at 3 or 4 a.m. to get online, while still getting the kids off to school and taking care of other daily responsibilities.

“We found that it really took two to three dedicated volunteers searching at 4 to 6 a.m. for best results,” Farouk said. “Although over 20 people volunteered for the early morning, wake-ups were tough.”

Steenhuis, a defense attorney, said she’s texting friends, fellow parents and collaborators all day about vaccine appointments. “We call ourselves the Scheduling Psychoz,” she said.

“I want to cry”

The effort is not the first or only of its kind. Steenhuis, the parent of a third-grader in North Cambridge, learned of the idea from friends doing the same in Arlington and Lexington. Farouk, who has two boys at the school, saw similar efforts on Facebook. The two and Wong united and floated the idea by principal Heidi Cook, who embraced the effort.

The effort has resonated with the school and the community. “I don’t think the teachers would have gotten through it without the parent-led initiative,” family liaison Susan Tiersch said. The volunteers were thanked by one faculty member who, hearing the news of a scheduled appointment, told them, “I want to cry, what a wonderful way to start my day.”

“It feels amazing to know that you’ve helped someone access the vaccine,” Steenhuis said.

Parents supporting educators

More sidewalk chalkings at The Maria L. Baldwin School. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Parent-led initiatives in general have been a big boost to morale and the community during the pandemic, Tiersch said. “When we came back to school,” she said of the return to in-person classes for younger students, “parents had chalked up the sidewalk with messages of love and encouragement.” Parents last year also assembled 90 gift bags for Christmas in addition to the typical work of a parent appreciation week.

The difficulties of getting educator vaccinations may be about to ease.

“Hopefully things will get better with the site going live tomorrow,” Steenhuis said of online booking improvements promised for Saturday, “but where’s the fun in that?”

“We’ll still be up at 4 a.m. searching for those CVS appointments,” Steenhuis said.

Price Shopper in 02138

7 Mar

Daily Table vs. Formaggio? Comparing prices among staples brings results you might expect

By Tom MeekWednesday, March 3, 2021

The new Formaggio has all the cheeses you might expect (and then some). (Photo: Tom Meek)

Formaggio Kitchen opened its (re)located Huron Village shop Monday at 358 Huron Ave., a sparkling space that offers the amenities of the original 244 Huron Ave. site and more. Making good on a commitment to the neighborhood that it would try to fulfill the services and products Fresh Pond Market had for the village enclave since 1922 (closing three years ago), there are batteries, Band-Aids and aspirin and other grab-and-go home needs in the store – but not, to my eye, some essentials such as toilet paper. There are great cheese and bakery spreads like the speciality food chain became famous for since opening in 1978, plus a beguiling butcher shop station abutted by a small offering of fresh fish (salmon, mostly); a prepared foods and deli/sandwich station has much more room to breathe and show its wares, and the same with the wine, a separate and spacious nook with an open, refrigerated display. The newly laid wooden floor, high ceilings and generous light infusing from high windows add to the regal, fresh and inviting atmosphere.

Fans of Formaggio’s old store will certainly revel in the ample space to navigate without having to tuck into a side nook to let another shopper pass, especially during these Covid times. Neighbors hoping for more of a Fresh Pond Market model with affordability in mind are likely to be disappointed, but this is early in the opening. Tweaks and changes will come with feedback from the community, co-owner Ihsan Gurdal has said.

Produce at the newly opened Daily Table in Central Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Grocery and home goods alternatives include a relatively close-by Star Market, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, and options farther away range from a Market Basket in Somerville to H-Mart and the Daily Table in Central Square, which opened in January with a mission of providing fresh, affordable food. We compared costs at Daily Table, the Star on Beacon Street near Porter Square and the new Formaggio locale, selecting five dairy items as similar as possible across the three stores. (Only three items were able to be compared across all three.) Here’s the chart; some figures are an approximation and subject to market fluctuations.

Formaggio does not sell Hood milk, but offers organic options. Daily Table does not sell home goods, just dairy and produce. Whole Foods, Star and Shaws’ and Market Basket provide all-in-one shopping needs stops.

Casablanca, Hill of Beans

28 Feb

Books: Here’s looking at ‘Casablanca,’ with author Leslie Epstein

By Tom MeekFor The Patriot

This Monday, Leslie Epstein the longtime Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University, debuts his latest work of fiction, “Hill of Beans: A Novel of War and Celluloid,” which like several of Epstein’s books weaves history and real life characters seamlessly into the fabric of fiction with a typical tight focus on the evils of the Holocaust and its repercussions across time. 

Epstein’s release party will be a free and virtual affair put on by the Brookline Booksmith at 7 p.m. Monday. The conversation will be hosted by writer/film critic A.S. Hamrah.

At the epicenter of “Hill of Beans” is Jack Warner — yes, one of THE Warner Brothers — and his epic struggle to get the film “Casablanca” made and exhibited to the world in a strategically timely and specific fashion. As the teaser tags it, “He has an impossible goal: to make the 1942 invasion of North Africa by British and American forces coincide with the film’s release.” That 1942 Warners classic about WWII refugees stranded in Morocco starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and peppered with massively quotable lines — and an eternal Valentine’s Day offering at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square — was written by Epstein’s father, Phillip and his uncle Julius (along with Howard Koch, adapting Murray Burnett’s stage play). The brothers Epstein (twins mind you and an important plot point later in the book) factor into Epstein’s novel that both celebrates and digs into the not so pretty underbelly of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Told from multiple points of views, the book has a bit of Rothian swagger to it, as well as devious wit, deft humor and hard truths; Hitler, Stalin and Goebbels all get to express themselves in their own voices.

That’s a pretty unholy trio of historically reviled icons.  Churchill and Patton join the mix as does the infamous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and many of Hollywood’s top personalities — Bugs Bunny included. No matter, Epstein hangs it all on his protagonist who he sees as a complicated man and potential stumbling block for readers,  “He was a  swaggering  male misogynist  and a racist, an all too typical figure of Hollywood and America of the 1930s and 40s, which may be a problem for the book, but he has so much exuberance and confidence and so much skill, I just fell in love with him.”https://8937e0d70ab4c2ceeec03fce0fd1533f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

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Formagio Kitchen on the move

8 Feb

Cost and coronavirus complications change plan, forcing a hybrid Formaggio-Fresh Pond Market

By Tom MeekThursday, February 4, 2021

Fresh Pond Market’s 6,000 square feet at 358 Huron Ave. is being transformed into a new Formaggio. (Photo: Formaggio)

Formaggio Kitchen announced last week that it would close down its original store at 244 Huron Ave. and relocate fully to the old Fresh Pond Market locale at 358 Huron Ave., though when rescuing the closing grocery store in 2019 owners said they planned to keep both businesses.  

“Incredibly disappointed,” one poster wrote on the site Nextdoor, saying Huron Village residents expected Formaggio to run the market as it had been, as well as keeping its specialty offerings and famous cheese cave where they’ve been since 1978.

While that was the intent, the coronavirus pandemic, economic challenges and other unforeseen factors – most having to do with the reconstruction of the circa 1922 market – have forced a change, Formaggio co-owner Ihsan Gurdal said Tuesday.

A sign on the new Formaggio location shows the same product categories as at the original location up the road. (Photo: Tom Meek)

“When we tore down the walls we found structural problems. The fire department had us put in a sprinkler system. And then when Covid hit, the city shut down construction for five months – and then after, it was really hard to get people to come back,” Gurdal says. Fresh Pond Market was initially expected to reopen last spring. Now the goal for opening is March 1.

Even in the fall of 2019, the Gurdals were finding that renovation of the 6,000-square-foot space needed a gut rehab costing “more than we wanted” – that even “scared” the couple to think about. The property was listed in the millions of dollars; in addition to rehab costs, the pandemic meant months of paying rent with no progress on the work.

After 42 years, it will be a bittersweet departure from 244 Huron Ave., Gurdal said. From that address he and his wife and co-owner, Valerie, have launched three other Formaggio locations, one in the South End, one in New York City and the last where Edible Arrangements was on Hampshire Street, just outside Kendall Square. Cognizant of the neighborhood’s expectations, the owners say they look to have a blend of classic specialty food shop that has become the mini-empire’s signature, as well as the bodega-plus offerings Fresh Pond Market brought to the area for nearly 100 years. “We’ll sell dishwasher liquid, Band-Aids and other essentials,” Ihsan Gurdal says. “We’re going to listen to neighbors and their desires. We’ve been having conversation with those who provided to Fresh Pond Market.”

The Najarian brothers held off selling their family-owned market until they were satisfied they’d found the right buyer, an independent owner who would keep it a market as neighbors were used to, including a full-service butchery.

Butchery gear is ready for eventual use at the new Formaggio location. (Photo: Formaggio)

“The new place is twice as big as our current place,” he noted. “In the old place we were all on top of each other – the butcher shop staff, the bakers and then there was catering.”

That world-renowned Formaggio cheese caves also will move down the street. The subterranean expanse – a series of multi-climate chambers accommodating the environmental needs of varying European varieties – will be bigger and perhaps allow Formaggio to age its cheese organically, keeping it longer and providing customers with new and even more nuanced offerings. Customers should expect to find $10 to $15 organic wines and not just higher-end labels that have been standard at Formaggio, though not more commercial and lower-quality brands such as a Yellow Tail. “Balance” is how Gurdal describes the undertaking. “We’ll flex and bend and go with what works.” 

As to the location he’s leaving behind, Ihsan Gurdal hoped it might become something that would enliven the neighborhood, such as a restaurant or flower shop.

Holiday Hunger and Restaurants in peril

9 Dec

Holiday hunger and dark kitchens have solution with funds for Project Restore Us food initiative

By Tom Meek
Monday, December 7, 2020

Project Restore Us food is prepared for delivery in November in repurposed space at Mae Asian Eatery in The Port neighborhood. (Photo: UFCW Local 1445 via Facebook)

Winter and subfreezing temperatures are here as restaurants continue to struggle to make ends meet and families struggle to put food on the table. Eateries such as Colette, Miracle of Science and The Asgard have chosen to hibernate until warmer times – and perhaps a coronavirus vaccine – while others have taken a leap of faith to launch (Source and Smoke Shop in Harvard Square) or reopen (the Newtowne Grill Express, for takeout). Others, such as Pagu and Mae Asian Eatery, both in the Massachusetts Avenue neck between Central Square and MIT, feel that being “safe and responsible” means no indoor dining, in the words of Pagu owner and chef Tracy Chang. As a result, they have found other ways to leverage their resources, keeping their businesses afloat while feeding the community.

To that end, they’re involved in Project Restore Us, a regional initiative allowing restaurants to tap their food supply channels to provide sustenance to those in need while keeping workers employed and the lights on.

The program, which operates off grants and sponsorships, assembles customized boxes of goods for delivery to food-insecure communities through a volunteer network. But with the holidays here, Project Restore Us has a sudden dearth of funds that the team is scrambling to augment, cofounder Marena Lin said.

Food boxes prepared for delivery by Project Restore Us in November lean heavily on healthy produce. (Photo: UFCW Local 1445 via Facebook)

The project has delivered more than 160,000 pounds of food to more than 900 families, the founders say. Lin estimated that $2 million would sustain 2,000 families for three months and provide 25,000 hours of work for restaurant workers.

But the most recent fundraising goal is $15,000 – a month’s worth of support for local restaurants and food for another 101 families.

That’s broken down into bite-size chunks of tax-deductible giving. For instance, $45 means 35 pounds of groceries to a working family in Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Everett, Chelsea or East Boston, and “each $1 donation buys one meal and pays restaurant workers,” according to the project. Donations are accepted here through Apple Pay, credit card or PayPal.

Along with Chang and Lin, a Harvard scholar whose academic work has focused on climate change and food security, the principals of Project Restore Us include Irene Li, of Boston’s Mei Mei restaurant, and Lily Huang, director of Mass Jobs with Justice.

There are other charitable food distribution networks, including the Boston Food Bank, that supply area food pantries. But those programs often provide random boxes of food that are not necessarily “nutritious or culturally appropriate” and don’t provide the opportunity for restaurants and their workers to partake in the process, Chang said. Restore Us customizes boxes based on outreach to the communities, and advice from partners in those communities.

This isn’t the first time Chang has engaged her Asian-Spanish themed restaurant for charitable causes. Early in in the pandemic her slimmed-down kitchen staff joined the volunteer effort Off Their Plate, which was set up to feed frontline medical workers with good, safe and high-quality meals when their facilities’ cafeterias got shut down. Chang and Lin say such hybrid efforts offer fiscal security to potentially marginalized workers, including undocumented or immigrant workers feeding families back home; they might otherwise have few economic options.

Also in the fight against holiday hunger: The Sheraton Commander Hotel’s Nubar Restaurant is contributing to the Cambridge Community Foundation’s Cambridge Covid-19 Emergency Fund. If you place an order this month, proceeds from add-ons such as a bottle of wine or desert go to the relief fund.

Racism hits local restaurant

23 Nov

Urban Hearth’s outdoor John Lewis mural vandalized Monday in ‘obvious hate crime’

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It’s been tough for restaurants recently with shortened hours, colder temperatures and perhaps another shutdown looming. Adding to the woes for Urban Hearth, the young nouvelle can-do north of Porter Square on Massachusetts Avenue, was an act of vandalism Monday that owner and chef Erin Miller described as “an obvious hate crime.”

“I’m absolutely gutted,” Miller said. The eatery’s cozy sidewalk pavilion, which I visited for a meal in August, had been since adorned by a mural enshrining recently passed civil rights icon and longtime Georgian lawmaker John Lewis, the subject of the 2020 documentary “Good Trouble.” The full-length alfresco design by local artist Rocky Cotard, commissioned by Miller and finished in early October, was marred by black spray paint in the middle of the night. To get to the images, the vandals had to get past dense pilings of furniture.

“Do not turn away from this … It is a violation of all that is decent, good and hopeful in our world,”Miller said online.

Miller said the police were beginning an investigation; it was unclear if there were cameras nearby that might have video helpful in the matter.

On Wednesday, police said several businesses in the 2200-2300 block of Massachusetts Avenue had been vandalized late Monday or early Tuesday, suggesting the vandalism was not exclusively targeted at the mural. Detectives are following up and looking for video evidence, said Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

While the Hearth has shut down the patio temporarily, the restaurant remains open for takeout.

I am Greta

25 Oct

‘I Am Greta’: Young environmentalist speaks; Whether we listen lies beyond director’s lens

By Tom Meek
Friday, October 23, 2020

The documentary “I Am Greta,” about teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg and the lengths she goes to spotlight the climate crisis, is a testament to commitment and passion. It’s also a film that feels like it only scratches the surface about its subject, her family and, more so, her cause.

The film centers on Thunberg’s Atlantic crossing in a carbon neutral yacht to give a speech to the United Nations’ climate summit in New York. She won’t fly “because of the enormous climate impact of aviation.” Filmmaker Nathan Grossman tags along, but first sets us up with some of Thunberg’s grassroots activism, including sitting on streets with signs calling out global plunder by carbon-consuming corporations and world powers. We also get a smattering of barbs from Trump, other globally positioned strongmen and climate change deniers – whose pockets Thunberg would say are lined by big carbon – disparaging the young activist. One talking head even digs in on Thunberg’s Asperger’s, tagging it as a flaw and dismissing her as a young girl with a weakness. Thunberg says the neurological condition allows her to “see through the static,” and seems to handle the pressure pretty well. She’s also a kid, and there are plenty of scenes with her and her father (the mother remains largely offscreen), who accompanies her to most of her speaking engagements. Grossman has quite intimate access to their interactions, even when Thunberg, in a dour mood, won’t get out of bed at her dad’s behest.

What will probably most enlighten the audience is Thunberg’s fiery eloquence. Half of it’s in her native Swedish, but when Thunberg gets up before the UN speaking in English, it’s sharp, well-honed rat-a-tat rhetoric: “I want you to panic, I want you to act as if the house is on fire” and “humanity sees nature as bottomless bag of candy” and some generation shaming (“You’ve stolen my dreams and my future, how dare you!”). It’s there finally that the film does something to take up Thunberg’s cause, serving up the hard reflection of one generation putting the next in jeopardy.

Grossman’s style for the most is Frederick Wiseman-like, fly-on-the-wall. It’s captivating to let Thunberg be herself and us observe quietly, but from an insight and understanding perspective there remains a frustrating remove. It’s Thunberg in the end in the end who punches through. She’s heard, but did the world listen?

Bountiful Kitchen

22 Oct

Bountiful Kitchen, sprung from a pandemic, nurtured into a healthy meal delivery service

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Julian Cohen and executive chef Keenan Goodwin prepare meals for Bountiful Kitchen at Foundation Kitchen in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Covid’s done much to fracture the restaurant business. There’s been a slew of permanent closings (Cuchi Cuchi, Flat Top Johnny’s, Bergamot and Inman Square’s Bukowski Tavern, among many) and with winter hibernations coming and Covid-19 infection rates on the uptick, silver linings are slim. But they do exist. During the spring, the Day reported on early business pivots by Pagu and Season to Taste as well as the launch of Bountiful Kitchen, a home delivery meal service. In April, Bountiful founder Julian Cohen was cooking out of a home kitchen and delivering hot meals to a boutique clientele in his Porter Square neighborhood, but taken the business to the next level, expanding his menu and delivery routes to include all of Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and select Boston neighborhoods. He’s also hired executive chef Keenan Goodwin, formerly of Fat Hen in Somerville, and moved to a formal commercial kitchen facility at the Foundation Kitchen on Washington Street, on the way to Sullivan Square.

Foundation Kitchen is a rentable shared space – a food startup incubator. Husband and wife owners Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak have two locations (the bigger facility is in Union Square) and a third in the works for Charlestown that will have a food and drink hall. The facilities gives people who want to enter the food business an easy leg up without having the huge financial burden of a storefront, a long-term lease and sunk equipment costs, Nagle said.

Bountiful Kitchen’s BBQ Turkey Breast with Old Bay Potato Salad. (Photo: Julian Cohen)

That makes sense for a scrappy business such as Bountiful. Cohen, a former barista and food preparer at Hi-Rise Bread Co., started the service on a whim after being laid off, while Goodwin was left out of the rotation when a slimmer Fat Hen reopened.

They’ve since evolved the menu at Bountiful toward a more symphonic complement of foods and flavors, Cohen said, as opposed to the early scramble, when things were assembled based on what was on hand. There’s now more collaboration and planning between owner and chef, and the two try to source all their foods locally.

Recent and current Bountiful Kitchen offerings in the $15 to $25 range include beef bolognese, crab-stuffed squash, brown sugar crusted salmon, lemon grass and coconut chicken stew, yellowfin tuna loins and roasted pork loin. There’s always a vegetarian option and sides, such as butternut squash soup and parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts. Like other delivery/to-go food services these days such as Hi-Rise and Pagu, Bountiful has pantry offerings; it also has wine pairings, which come through a partnership with The Wine Press. The wine comes with your meal. Delivery happens between 6 to 7 p.m. and the menu rotates daily.

Cohen and Goodwin do more than 120 meals a week – up from around 80 when Cohen launched – and plan to keep expanding. If you’re not on their delivery heat map, you and some neighbors can fill out a form to be added; Cohen said he is deeply customer driven. Most of his weekly queue are regulars who keep coming back.

“The food’s always cooked to perfection,” said Rachel Joffe, a Bountiful regular. “Delivery is pleasant, they give you advance notice, and the delivery persons are nice. They have accommodated my need/request to have the food delivered on the early side, and I appreciate their flexibility.”

Bountiful Kitchen has a weekly newsletter to let subscribers know each week’s offerings. The menu is also updated on a website with easy ordering.

The Powerful Coe

1 Oct

Catching up with Charles Coe, an enduring voice where streetscape changes but race issues linger

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Poet Charles Coe is the subject a film screening Wednesday as part of the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival’s opening night lineup. (Photo: Gordon Webster)

As noted in Sunday’s Film Ahead column, the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival kicks off virtually Wednesday, with “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show” by Yoruba Richen, about Johnny Carson stepping aside to let Belafonte host in the wake of race riots in the late ’60s, and the short “Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business” by Christine Turner.

What’s Cambridge-centric about the opening night lineup is the inclusion of another short: Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters,” about the longtime Cambridge resident, poet and musician. If you’ve ever been to a Cambridge or Boston area poetry reading you’ve probably heard Coe deliver one of his truths in his signature baritone voice. Or you may have seen his recent photographic exhibit at the Boston Public Library, “What You Don’t Know about Me” (2018), or as part of Rashin Fahandej’s “A Father’s Lullaby” exhibit at the ICA last year.

Though Coe did not write poetry seriously until the 1990s and published his first collection, “Picnic on the Moon,” in 1999, to date he’s published three collections of poems, been a Boston artist in residence and earned an honorary doctorate – not bad for a guy who never got a bachelor’s degree.

“You know, I swear I was just buying notebooks and pencils with my mom for school,” Coe says, “and the I blinked and I’m turning 68.”

Coe, born in Indianapolis, dropped out of college and played bass in a rock cover band (Motown and Top 40) in Nashville, Tennessee, before making his way to Boston in the mid 1970s.


The trailer for Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters”:Video Player00:0001:35


Before a nearly 20-year career at the Mass Cultural Council, Coe worked as a musician around the city and in the food industry. “I worked at a place called The Hungry Persian on Brattle Street,” Coe said.

It and every other eatery he named are no more. Being in the Hub for so long, Coe has seen a lot come and go.

And remain the same.

As a black man he’s experienced his fair share of infamous Boston racism, as captured in his poem “For the Ancient Boston Bar with Neon Shamrocks in the Windows, Recently Departed,” about an Irish bar where he was not welcomed. Coe said he was experiencing “great grief and dismay” anew over what is happening across the country. “Didn’t we fight those battles?” he asks incredulously. To Coe racism is like tuberculosis: “You think it’s contained and controlled, but you just need the right conditions for it to flare up. And that creature in the Oval Office is doing everything he can to set it off.”

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