On arriving in Boston I was surprised at the heat and humidity, we checked into the Seaport Hotel – which is perfect for those who are in Boston for conferences and business. It is, as it’s name suggests right on the harbours edge and a quick ride from the airport / station. Pierre and I strolled damply along the pavilion checking out the scene until hunger drew us into a Mexican restaurant where a really spicy guacamole added yet more sweat to our brows.
The next morning we took a train to Harvard. Now I can say I’ve been to Harvard, I feel smarter already. We wandered through the beautiful grounds then sat and people watched. When the midday bell rang the students vanished into the different buildings yet, there were still so many people, tourists like ourselves and…no doubt many proud parents, grandparents and uncles and aunts.
We wandered out of the grounds and found ourselves passing by Harvard Art Museum – so we happily popped in to spend a pleasant hour visiting old friends; Monet; Renoir; Rembrandt and then I saw a very unique piece, it looked part fresco, part sketch. Men, leaning under a bridge sharing a smoke. Painted against a slate coloured stone the dulled colours underscoring the sense of grim weariness. The title was Manhattan Bridge The artist, Reginald Marsh https://art.famsf.org/reginald-marsh?page=1 . An American born in Paris to two artists his family moved back to the States when he was 2. After studying art he worked as a cartoonist, he focused on images of the homeless hobo’s, unemployed workers during the depression and burlesque dancers and dance halls. A visit to Paris and Florence as an adult fostered a fascination with the principles of the Renaissance artists, his work can best be described as social realism.
I find that I take in art best in bite size pieces so we left to go and find MIT’s museum. I was expecting it to be, from my perspective, nothing but dull engines and cogs…and engines and cogs there were in abundance but it was far from boring. My first gasp was when we entered the section dedicated to neurology, to the beauty of the brain. I am totally fascinated by the brain, it’s incredible complexity, it’s ability to regenerate (neuro-plasticity) and here there were lovely pictures of the brain in action taken from FMRI’s and CAT scans, sketches of the neurons with their lovely grasping dendrites – proving that nature / god whichever concept you subscribe to is THE original artist!
We moved onto Arthur Ganson, a real cogs and chains guy, who creates something he calls Gestural Engineering. He envisions and designs the most beautiful, interactive art from cogs, wheels and chains – function as I could never have imagined it. It was very interactive with pedals you could press to animate the pieces. One piece, a trolley with some tubing and hose laid on top of a piece of felt or boa which when you pushed the trolley moved like the sweetest little slugs.
In another piece he explains how one day when looking at his sons little yellow wooden chair he imagined it disintegrating into pieces flung into different corners of the room – he replicates that with a miniature copy of that wooden chair, which, when you press the pedal is torn apart and with something that reminded me of a bicycle chain pulled out to the extremes ends of a star shape and then pulled back together.
So, yes there was a great deal to see and engage with. The very first and very last exhibits also made a big impression with me. From the moment I saw the Moral Machine I knew I wanted to try that – essentially it’s a scenario set up to test and gather perceptions on self driving cars. It offers scenario’s where the brakes on a self driving car fail and you get to pick one of 2 scenarios…essentially who dies or lives when the poop hits the fan or, in this case the car hits the …you choose? You can try it yourself herehttp://moralmachine.mit.edu/
The final exhibit had me close to tears; it was a photographic exhibition by an artist called Mila Teshaieva. Using photo’s of certain individuals recreating a moment family members remember from stories told to them by their parents or grandparents who lived throgh times of war and conflict in places such as Russia, Turmenistan, Yugoslavia among others. She also juxtaposes national places of interest in those same places to illustrate how political constructs are often in conflict with private and public memory. That our history is determined as much by what we choose to forget, as much as we choose what to remember. The air of fundamental incongruity is there in the series title: “Unfamiliar Memory.” What could be more be familiar than memory? Except that’s not so with memories one wants to keep at a distance.”
The day had given me much to mull over and I had to admit I’d never imagined that MIT would interest me so deeply. There was no time to dilly dally and I mulled as we power walked back. We’d got so caught up and time ticking by while Pierre’s conference kicked off that evening so we needed to get back to the hotel in time for him to register and get to the first keynote speaker. And even as we walked back we were treated to unusual art, this time in some interesting architecture.
Seaport Hotel has an awesome really well stocked gym, a pool to swim lengths and offers classes so the next morning I got up early to go work out while Pierre went for a quick run. Running and yoga appear super popular in this part of Boston. I guess in terms of running it helps that it’s pretty flat with wide sidewalks. We’re in what looks like a pretty affluent area and here you’d never say that the US also has an obesity problem. People are fit and slim and healthy looking and even when we wandered out to the various other suburbs by and large, even if not athletic the average person wouldn’t be described as grossly overweight.
While Pierre set off to the conference I took a couple of trains to go find the Boston Library. A beautiful Renaissance building, it was declared a “palace to the people” at it’s opening in 1895. There is a beautiful courtyard a restaurant and well stocked canteen on the lower level. In true Renaissance style there are large rooms with beautiful murals, sculptures and dramatic light fixes.
It has a wide arrange off books and I spent ages looking through the children’s sections (those for children and those about children) as well as the research area losing track of time. Finally I bought some lunch and sat in their beautiful courtyard which wraps around a pretty selection of shrubs with the peaceful sound of a fountain in the centre of which stands a sculpture by Frederick William Macmonnies’ “Dancing Bacchante and Infant Faun”.
Eventually I had to make my way back and set about finding the correct line back…well that took a little while, largely cause once I left the library I didn’t have internet. Initially I tried the one across the road on which I’d arrived but …no, that put me on the wrong platform for the train I needed – I asked a lady, who was really polite, took our her earbuds, looked intently at the map with me before telling me “sorry, I don’t think I can help you with that, I’m not from around here..I only know this line cause it goes to my home” oh. So thereafter the next 3 people I asked I prefaced with “Excuse me, are you from around here?” People are friendly and helpful by default and it only took asking so many people because they’d say “sure, you want the T across the road on the other corner” but since I was at a crossroad, this took at least 2 more false tries…however I did get some great pics of beautiful churches while getting to know those couple of blocks really well.
Back in the main part of Boston I popped in to the Children’s Museum…which turned out to be a museum for children…rather than about children. It was great, if you’ve got a kid in Boston take them there for sure. Its great for the inner kid too, there was a room just for bubbles, different containers with different things to blow bubbles including one which was like a huge loom which you used a pulley to raise and it made the BIGGEST bubbles. I got some cool ideas, and two dinosaur hand puppets but didn’t take any photos because as a lone adult I didn’t want to freak out any parents.
The Boston Tea Party museum was right nearby so I decided to join their interactive 75 minute tour – I guess everyone knows a little about the Boston Tea Party I anticipated getting a little bored here and there but have to say that I was not at all not even for a second. It was highly entertaining and cleverly done and I would thoroughly recommend it even if you’re only slightly interested in history.
The following day we got up early enough to catch a yoga power class which soon had the two of us sweating hard. The yoga instructor lamented how tricky it was to teach an hours yoga when she was used to 90 minute classes while the two of us silently said a prayer of thanks it was only an hour. Then we hit the showers, grabbed a bite and Pierre headed off to the conference, It had fascinated me when we flew in over Boston to see beautiful islands of green dotted everywhere with fingers of green reaching out to touch the yachts that were generously sprinkled over the water. Some, from the air, seemed to have nothing but trees and shrubs while on others stood beautiful old homes. Now, with time on my hands I intended to visit some of the islands.
There are several islands, 13 I believe, which form part of Boston Harbour National Recreation Areas. Some are wildlife reserves, some you can go berry picking and some have popular hiking trails. One, Peddocks Island was used for filming scenes in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Most popular seem to be Spectacle Island and Georges Island. Because we were now heading into Fall, there were no ferries to the other islands and the one to Spectacle only ran on weekends, which was unfortunate since I believe you can swim on Spectacle Island and it was a truly hot day.
I went to Georges Island, used for agriculture until 1825 when it when the US government claimed it for coastal defence. It is now known as the home to historic Fort Warren, a civil war era fort built between 1833 and 1861. It’s clearly popular for school trips but although there were a couple of those on the ferry the island is about 40 / 50 acres large enough to find a quiet spot of ones own. I spend some time wandering around the old fort, sometimes tagging along with the school groups so I could hear more about the fort with it’s beautiful granite archways and gun turrets. There’s a huge grassy parade ground with old Horsechestnut, Elm and Maple trees on the edges to sit beneath while enjoying a snack. I lazed on one of the chairs out there for awhile staring up into the leaves of a tree that has seen close on a hundred years pass it by.
After awhile I wandered in and around the old building. At one point, in the now abandoned and empty rooms that served as a hospital, I looked around and as I turned to go the old wooden doors slowly and rather deliberately began to swing closed. I told myself it was the breeze, and yet, my heart sped up and so did my feet as I put my hand out to stop the doors closing entirely. I walked away laughing at myself for watching too many horror movies – good thing I didn’t know then about The Lady in Black the reputed ghost of Mrs. Andrew Lanier, the wife of a Confederate soldier that was imprisoned there in 1861.
Back out in the sunlight I climbed up to the tops of the fort from where there are astounding views of the surrounding islands and lighthouses. It was a pleasant day wandering around in the sun and as I sat in the Ferry returning to the mainland I felt relaxed, lazy and could quite easily have dozed off in the chair sitting there on the deck with the quite swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the water.
Boston is a busy, business kind of city and while it’s not necessarily full of tourist activities there are various things to do and see, most relating to American history, the Freedom Walk, Boston Tea Party and of course there are a lot of boat trips one can take and while there’s no hiking it’s a lovely, easy city to walk. Having ticked most of what was available I decided to spend the last day doing ‘admin’ a load of laundry and buying items that folk back home had asked for. I ended up at Quincy Market near the Faneuil Hall (meeting place of the Patriots and where they discussed issues such as the tea tax) in downtown Boston. Constructed in 1824 – 26, it’s named in honor of Mayor Josiah Quincy, who organised it’s worth noting without raising any tax or debt…which is probably why it got named after him.
Quincy market is like an open air market of sorts with individual shops that you’d usually find in a mall, with a strip of different food vendors in the centre island – it’s worth a look but it’s crazy busy, a bit too busy for me though I enjoyed people watching and listening to the various buskers playing in the drizzle that was spattering down. I even managed to catch part of the Freedom Trail as one of the stops is at Faneuil Hall. I got my shopping done and headed back to pack for our next stop, our old friend New York. We took a last walk along the Boston Seafront as I reflected that while it hadn’t been on my list of places to see Boston had turned out to be quite a pleasant place to spend some time.