Renée Loth

A few of my favorite things


Hey, the world didn’t end Friday night! That’s a relief — though I probably could have skipped this deadline if the Mayan prophesy had panned out. Still, today we should all feel a little bit like Ebenezer Scrooge, who wakes up on Christmas morning thrilled to learn that he is alive, and even better, that the three ghosts visited him all in one night, so he can still enjoy the holiday nog at his nephew’s house party.

It’s never a bad time to count your blessings, but the pending apocalypse provided a particular moment of reflection. At least, it put me in mind of the many people and things I would miss if the world had ended Friday. Raindrops on roses didn’t make the list, but the icy waters off Plum Island Sound on a steamy August day, the first crocus, the throaty sound a cello makes . . . these are the things I’d mourn should obliteration come:

 The mighty Charles. I like our city’s funky industrial channel and sleek new harbor fine, but the river is our public back yard, its banks teeming with picnics and epic, polyglot volleyball games. From the looping oxbows near its source to its deep basin, the Charles is the blue thread that ties us all together. I’ve fished in it, sailed on it, walked across it when it froze. I even once dove in — 14 years before Bill Weld — and lived to reap the bragging rights. Without its 80-mile sapphire necklace, Boston would be, well, underdressed.


 Newspapers on the doorstep. I’ve already had a taste of missing this, since the local delivery system is sometimes less than exemplary. And I get very irritable without my morning papers. I depend on the comforting ritual of sitting at the kitchen table, slowly turning the pages, hoping for that moment unique to the newspaper-reading experience: the serendipity of discovering the fascinating thing you didn’t know you cared about. In a world where so many institutions let us down, the reliable thwack of the paper every dawn is an affirmation.

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 France. The rose window at Notre Dame. Ashy goat cheese. Fields of yellow broom in the spring, cherries in June, super-sweet grapes off the vine in September. The most mellifluous language on earth. The French created the Bic pen, the parachute, and cinema. Health care and child care are universal, and the TGV is the fastest conventional train in the world. What a country!

 The sound of music. Not the movie, though Julie Andrews did look fetching in her novice habit. No, I mean the chords and rhythms that resonate with our deepest core — our own heartbeats. Classical, jazz, or rock, if it’s performed with skill and feeling, nothing beats music for transporting us out of our little lives. (Though I might make an exception, this time of year, for “Feliz Navidad.”)

 Breyer’s vanilla ice cream. The truth is, I think they changed the formula. But I am devoted to this specific brand of frozen delight; no complex jalapeno basil flavors for me. Even its sophisticated black carton gives me disproportionate pleasure. A few years ago I had surgery, and I asked the anesthesiologist to chant “Breyer’s vanilla ice cream” while I was going under, so that I’d be hungry and not nauseated when I woke up. It worked.

 My teachers. This is just another way of saying my family and friends — and even a few strangers — who teach me how to be more generous and kind, more curious, less anxious and impatient. Who tell me about Tiepolo’s frescos and Wendell Berry’s poems. The ones who teach me to appreciate physical humor, the chromatic scale, to do a headstand, to bake gingerbread, to have fun on a seven-hour layover in Houston. You know who you are. Thank you.


This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course, and no doubt you readers have your own. So why not take some time to enumerate the things you hold dear? The world does end for too many people every day, Scrooges and St. Nicks alike. Shadows of our own mortality ride along with the death of the year. But the light returns to our hemisphere, beginning today. Gratitude is the attitude.

Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.