Five Cultural Gems to Discover in Massachusetts

Culture Tower Hill Lawn Garden Massachusetts

Published on May 15th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

4 Five Cultural Gems to Discover in Massachusetts

Steeped in history and filled with establishments that run the gamut from artisanal to farm to table, Massachusetts has the ability to surprise by a fine excess. The quintessentially New England State offers many fine culinary, educational and horticultural stops that should be on every culture-lover’s map. Here are some places to check out on your next visit:

Experience: Tower Hill Botanical Gardens


The Tower Hill ‘s Limonaia   Tower Hill Lawn Garden Massachusetts

Mountain Laurel in the Lawn Garden (images courtesy of Tower Hill)

A 132 acre garden situated right outside Worcester towards the west of Boston, Tower Hill allows you the opportunity to gawk at blooms and also learn (you can plant larch trees, for example, and even take horticultural classes). There’s also a library, impressive oak trees, and an apple orchard filled with heirloom apples (including 119 pre-20th century varieties). There are several distinctive gardens, and a greenhouse filled with year-round blooms. With over 25,000 daffodils, Wordsworth would have felt very much at home here.

Stay: The Red Lion Inn

Located in Stockbridge in the Berkshires, the Red Lion is one of the oldest continuously operated New England inns since the 18th century, and committed to eco sustainability. You’ll find the staple comfort items from hot tub to a gracious front porch, as well as antiques and artwork in rooms. It’s also a stone’s throw away from the musical paradise that is Tanglewood. The Inn also features a charming black and white cat, Simon, who also serves as its “Lobby Ambassador.”

The Inn also offers private wine dinners.

Indulge: H.R. Zeppelin Fine Handmade Chocolates

HR Zeppelin Fine Handmade Chocolates in Massachusetts

Image credit: H.R. Zeppelin


There’s no greater pleasure than a fine homemade chocolate, and H.R. Zeppelin sources local butters, flowers and seasonal spices to create small batch confections that are as delicious as they are quirky. Doria Pollinger loves to create fine handmade truffles like Dark Chocolate Macadamia Cashew, White Chocolate Peppermint etc. All ingredients are sourced locally and the chocolates are meant to be savored.

Johnny Mash Berkshire Hard Cider

The makers of delicious and local hard ciders, Johnny Mash rose to national acclaim for its hard cider that featured a bittersweet nose with a subtle vanilla toasted oak which is complex and sweet. The oak-aged hard cider is proudly made in the Berkshires and made from fermenting fresh apple juice from estate grown apples. The Original American Cider is sweet, light and perfect for a summer evening on the porch, especially when served iced. Apples are sourced from Hilltop Orchards which is a 200-acre farm that is more souped up than your average version, with trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

Travessia Urban Winery

Micro-wineries often produce surprising, experimental wines because they can! Travessia, located in Bedford, Massachusetts, focuses on small lots using the harvest of locally-grown grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Vidal Blanc, and Pinot Noir. I tasted a refreshing Pinot Noir Rose, which was sweet without being saccharine, and light as sorbet. The wines are aged in stainless steel tanks as well as oak barrels, depending on the bottle.

Peabody Essex Museum

Toshio Shibata at the Peabody Essex Museum

Toshio Shibata’s landscape photography defy conventional viewpoints

The oldest museum in the country may also be among the most experimental, at least when it comes to exhibits. The Peabody Essex Museum offers everything from art to reconstructed Chinese homes, and showcases art and culture from New England as well as globally. Take, for instance, the Indian art exhibit Midnight To the Boom which is a showcase of important Indian art since Independence, and the constructed landscape photography of Japan’s Toshio Shibata.

The museum is undergoing a $650 million expansion which is scheduled to be completed in 2017.


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The Beautiful Changing Culture of Jordan’s Women

Posted by on Oct 7, 2012 in Culture, Experiences, Featured, Jordan, Travel | 9 comments

The Beautiful Changing Culture of Jordan’s Women

“Be careful,” around half a dozen people told me before I embarked on my Jordan adventure. There I was, six months pregnant, visiting a country in the Middle East.

Loving statements freely given, I thought, and the well-wishers certainly meant no harm. They might as well be throwing rice at a wedding, wishing me luck, as though I was visiting some dangerous place for my honeymoon (to be perfectly honest, driving New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway seems far more dangerous).

A part of me felt excited but slightly apprehensive at visiting Jordan. Before visiting, I had read about Muslim’s various Status Laws, which are based on Sharia (the moral and religious code of Islam). Consider this:

  • All single women (whether they are divorced, widowed or not married) under the age of 40 are considered legal minors, and have a male guardian;
  • While marriage is completely universal, Muslim law permits Jordanian men to have as many as four wives;
  • Women cannot marry for the first time without the consent of their male guardian;
  • Men have the rights to sole legal custody of children.

While not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination, my heart sank after reading these stringent rules, and I hoped against hope that my brush with the country was not going to be similar to anything that Maureen Dowd had experienced and written about in her petrifying Vanity Fair essay, “A Girl’s Guide to Saudi Arabia.” I certainly did not know what the men would think of me, timid rebel adventurer who was touring with her unborn child, and without her husband.

But to think that whatever Ms. Dowd wrote about Saudia Arabia and women also applies to Jordan would be very misguided.

The Changing Culture of Jordan's Women: a beautiful lady in Jerash

Pretty Woman: A lady in Jerash

The Changing Culture of Jordan's Women: a beautiful lady in Amman

Two young ladies I met while exploring the ancient ruins at Jerash

Often referred to as the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” Jordan has a peace loving people with a genuine desire to make every visitor feel extremely welcome and comfortable in their country. Everywhere I went, the sense of hospitality and kindness was palpable. And in my condition, their courtesy was even more obvious. Every hotel I went to, the men went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable: they helped me with luggage; they insisted on carrying my bags, even my camera. I remembered a subway ride I had taken in New York City, where I was forced to stand for 15 minutes next to a well-dressed gentleman who didn’t even bat an eyelid or stand up to offer me his seat.

Jordan is a country that could have written the entire Emily Post book from scratch.

Here I was, off season in the middle of the world, having flown in from a country that prided itself on liberty, Constitutional freedom, and a culture that emphasizes individuality above everything else. We’ve come to take so much for granted like the freedom to marry, right to free speech, the right to travel anywhere, as though they were mints on a hotel pillow or shampoo easily purchased from the drugstore aisle.

Jordan’s cultural landscape is rapidly changing, especially with respect to its women. The Jordanian women I saw and spoke to seemed to have freedom of expression and even freedom of dress. Young women were walking in Jerash without abayas (the loose, robe-like typically black over-garment that is robe-like covering the body), as cheerful as kids on Spring Break. Many were clad in jeans and a cotton tunic, even smoking water pipes in open spaces. There were young girls who couldn’t have been more than twelve years old, shouting their fierce loyalty for King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein with no one to edit them.

Haneen Saleh, who works at Jordan’s only eco-lodge in Feynan, has also observed a welcome change in the cultural landscape. Women are now seen on the streets as traffic police officers, a much more different spectacle than a few years ago. Feynan Ecolodge also employs women, which represents a marked shift in the Bedouin community. The lodge has five women working in the leather and candle workshops and the sole bread provider to the lodge, Um Khalid, is a Bedouin woman who makes the bread in the comfort of her tent, which is a culturally sensitive way in which she can contribute to her family.

Woman Security Officer in Madaba, Jordan

A security officer at the Visitors’ Center in Madaba, with a proper uniform and badges

In Madaba, the city of mosaics, I encountered a passionate young woman who worked as a security officer at the Visitors’ Center. She said she loved being a woman in Jordan, and had no desire to live anywhere else. And unlike some other Middle Eastern countries, there are no restrictions on where Jordanian women can sit in public places: there are no reserved seats or curtained off areas in major metropolitan areas.

The statistics are also heart-warming: the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research estimates that the number of female students enrolled in 2009-2010 was 17,409, an increase of 10% from the 2005-2006 figures. The Kingdom is also actively promoting and encouraging women to enroll in the community colleges, in order to match the country’s educational system with labor market requirements.

This is the direction in which the Kingdom wants to go, and it is in this sense that the news is welcoming. Too often, we try to fit a conservative square peg in a progressive round hole: change is often beneficial when it suits the mindset and outlook of a country, and is in keeping with its vision.

To impose Western norms on a country simply because we wish to Westernize it doesn’t make sense. And it is in this sense that the cultural shift to emancipate Jordan’s women is a truly beautiful thing, because it is what the Kingdom wants, and what the Jordanian women welcome.

As for me, I still look in the rear view mirror twice, especially while driving on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway.

Columbus’ Inner Circle: Inside Tatzu Nishi’s “Discovering Columbus” Art Installation (PHOTOS)

Posted by on Sep 29, 2012 in Culture, Featured, New York City | 0 comments

Columbus’ Inner Circle: Inside Tatzu Nishi’s “Discovering Columbus” Art Installation (PHOTOS)

A well-known New York City statue transforms into a living room. Here’s our take on the project…

I wasn’t sure what to make of the geometric array of aluminum beams that surfaced in Columbus Circle a few weeks ago. These beams, part of Tatzu Nishi’s latest public art project, concealed Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo’s 70 foot tall statue of Christopher Columbus. They made me one part cynical and the other part fascinated: what was Nishi going to do to a cultural landmark? Since I’m skeptical of modern art projects in general (perhaps because of my inability or unwillingness to understand some of them), I became, in the words of Lewis Carroll, “curioser and curioser.”

Like most coffee-fueled New Yorkers working in the area, I’ve exited the bustling subway stop at this station numerous times, well aware of the traffic circle bearing the famed explorer’s name and statue. I have even snapped a few pictures on days with interesting weather or lighting. But until I visited Nishi’s exhibit, I had never imagined what it might be like to experience a statue  in the comfort of my own living room.

“Discovering Columbus” is free to the general public, but you will need a ticket well in advance (the installation is not easy to access for those who just casually want to drop by). The numbers of visitors is controlled: there is a capacity constraint, after all (we’re not in Montana, with unlimited real estate. We’re in a few square feet of constructed living room space some 70 feet above the ground). You can pick up your ticket on the 3rd floor of the Time Warner Center or by going to the Public Art Fund’s website. I arrived about 15 minutes before my scheduled time and gained access right on time. Appointments are available on the hour and half-hour.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Art transforms: Columbus Circle is now shrouded in the scaffolding of Tatzu Nishi’s installation, “Discovering Columbus.”

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Visitors are permitted to enter, amusement-park style, after the attendant scans your ticket

The real entrance to the exhibit is not ground level: it’s six stories above the  Circle’s park benches and charmingly punctual fountains. The installation’s supporting structure has the permanence of a Ferris wheel at a country carnival but much more meticulously designed and assembled. Through a door one might buy at Home Depot, I entered a simple yet elegant dark-wood hallway featuring a single piece of side table furniture. It felt exactly as a living room would: cozy and spacious, but for the fact that there were so many random people wandering about. The exhibit staff member is charming, and invites me to sit for a while, relax, and enjoy the current daily paper or a book from the shelf. In this aspect the installation is an ode to the power of leisure, and perhaps the most comfortable 30 minutes you’ll spent at the Circle.

A Samsung flat-screen tops the entertainment table beside the bookshelf. No DVDs or NetFlix available, but you only get 30 minutes to spend there, so chances are catching a few minutes of Inception may be a bit pointless. Instead, you’re fed with CNN headlines.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

If you ever had an Erector Set (we’re talking pre Legos), you’ll appreciate the meticulously assembled scaffold supporting the exhibit above Columbus Circle

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Two staircases bring visitors up and down six flights to the exhibit. An elevator also provides access

Like the entrance hallway, the living room retains the same simple elegance. Smack dab in the middle of the room is Christopher Columbus, whose presence is unmistakeable yet feels part of the organic setup. Nothing in the room—including the pink wallpaper featuring iconic American images sketched in a repeating pattern—clashes with the statue’s tone. Large paned windows overlooking Broadway and the Time Warner Center keep the lighting natural and balanced, so don’t forget to bring your camera. Visitors are encouraged to post their pictures on the exhibit’s website.

I left the exhibit feeling as though I got to know Columbus a bit better. After all, reading The New York Times in a living room with a looming presence of the explorer is not something you get to do on a daily basis. Columbus may have discovered America, but it is we who discover Columbus after visiting this extremely interesting, and arguably philosophical, installation.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Enjoy the view of Broadway and Central Park.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

You enter the exhibit through the hallway. An attendant will invite you to sit down, relax and feel at home.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

The Columbus statue in the center of the room atop the coffee table 

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Enjoy a seat in “your” living room for the next 30 minutes.  A Samsung flat-screen rolls the news in the background.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Feel free to catch some headlines (newspapers are current), grab some reading material off the bookshelf, or help others snap pictures of their pose with Chris C.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

It’s a real two-foot coffee table

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

The wallpaper echoes images of Americana

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

Columbus Circle way back when

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

You quickly realize you are part of the exhibit itself–or, in this case, part of Columbus’s “Inner Circle”

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

 “Discovering Columbus” is not for the unannounced visitor. If you are in New York for the day only, it is not likely you will be able to access the exhibit unless you get your ticket prior to your arrival. So if you are planning to be in the City, get your ticket in advance through the website.

Discovering Columbus Tatzu Nishi Public Art Fund Installation

All photos copyright of Matthew Minucci, Butterflydiary. No reproduction without permission. 


Win TWO tickets to see YES MAN, from Yes to Carrots


Want to win two free tickets to see the movie YES MAN playing in theatres now (starring Jim Carrey)? All you have to do is enter a comment on one thing you will say YES TO in the coming year. I’ll accept entries until Friday, January 9th. Tickets are valid anywhere, nationwide, and can be redeemed on

One winner will be chosen at random and will receive TWO free ticket codes.

One of my favorite brands, period. Yes To Carrots is available at Walgreens, and ever since I tried their “C Loves Your Hair” Shampoo & Conditioner that is filled with carrot juice and natural goodness, I’ve been paying a visit to the store since. Yes, the cashier even knows my middle name.

The Shampoo nourishes the hair and scalp with 26 minerals. Also a treat for the strands is the “C is for Hair Care” Hair Mask. It’s a bit laborious to leave it in your locks before you shower (let’s face it…I’m lazy). But the results are worth saying YES to.

I also love the “C Me Smile” USDA Certified Lip Butters that never leave my purse. And they’re priced at perfection because nothing really retails for more than $6. Yes!!!

Tom’s Shoes: Soles For a Cause

We’ve heard about FEED. Now, your soles can save lives too. TOMS shoes is a cause-based shoe company that will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased.Listen, can you imagine walking barefoot? Ever? Well, a lot of kids in less fortunate countries (as well as the U.S.) can and do.So far, TOMS has donated over 115,000 pairs of shoes and done shoe drops in Africa, South America and in the United States, in the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. Their Holiday Project took off this month and their goal is to donate at least 30,000 shoes to kids in Ethiopia in 30 days. Won’t you help? Those souls — and soles — will thank you.Check out their You Tube video: