a partly cloudy week: part two

On Tuesday we drove sixteen miles north to Salem while listening to excerpts from the audio version (she narrates) of Sarah Vowell's collection of essays titled "The Partly Cloudy Patriot." You may have heard Vowell on NPR's "This American Life," or as the voice of Violet in Pixar's "The Incredibles." She writes (and, in this case, reads) about her experiences travelling around the country, in large part attracted to former sites of death and destruction. Her essay on visiting Salem seemed relevant. We ended up listening to several more excerpts on the way back and later in the week when we drove south to Plymouth (more about that later). She's my new popular culture/social observer hero.

We got a late start that morning, getting to Salem a little before noon, giving us just the afternoon to tour the numerous attractions before everything closed at 5. Starting at the well-endowed Peabody Essex Museum, we strolled through the current exhibition, "Painting Summer in New England" (in case you're wondering, I plan to "summer" right here in Dorchester), checked out a half-dozen or so galleries of their maritime collection, and took a look at the kid-friendly "Owls and Art in Nature." I learned that owls are kinda like cats, meaning very different things according to different cultures.

From the PEM we walked to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, an open grassy area with twenty benches jutting out of the stone courtyard walls, one for each of the nineteen victims who were hanged for not confessing to practicing witchcraft and one other guy, Giles Corey, who was "pressed to death." Salem has its own red trail of paint (like Boston's Freedom Trail), guiding you to all things wiccan. From the memorial we moved on to the Salem Witch Museum, discribed in Fodor's as "informative, if somewhat hokey." Yeah, it's pretty much 100% hokey, but I did pick up a cheap copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic, "The Scarlet Letter."

We followed the red trail on down to Salem's waterfront, where we learned that, like Boston's USS Constitution a day earlier, the Friendship was mysteriously closed that day (the only explanation is some sort of conspiracy to keep us off watercraft of any kind). So we continued on to the House of Seven Gables (making a brief detour at Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie on the way, where I bought a few of their famous gibraltars, essentially massive after-dinner mints). Technically, we could have caught the last tour of the seven gables, whatever they are, arriving just before 5 o'clock, but, like everything else in the area, you have to pay a significant sum to get in, so we tried to see as much as we could from the outside before moving on to the super-cute Derby Wharf Lighthouse. We finished our visit with an authentic and quite excellent Mexican meal at Cilantro, oddly voted Best of Boston in 2002. I guess if the T goes there, Boston can claim it...as long as it's good, of course.

P.S. If you're wondering why this entry lacks photos, that's 'cause Neal took most of the Salem shots. Rumor has it he'll be blogging about the week as well.

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