Boston Public Library, Copley Plaza

Monday, January 10th, 5:33pm

I am sitting in an upstairs reading room. There is a general quiet that is not quite silence. The shuffling of feet against the smooth stone floor. The tapping of laptop keys. Scattered footsteps. But also the low rumble of the city outside. Once in a while the blare of a car horn interrupts the still.

Rows of wooden tables straddle the central aisle which runs the long length of the room. Each table has eight wooden chairs – four on each side – with two elegant bronze lighting fixtures, each with two symmetrical lamps sheltered by green lampshades. At each end of the room there is a low wooden wall of bookshelves lined with well-worn volumes. The center aisle continues through this wall on each end under an archway topped with a gold-faced clock.

Similar rows of tri-partite bookcases continue along each of the long walls of the room. They are punctuated by tall stone columns that rise to form the vaults of the ceiling. These vaults and the rotundae at each end of the room evoke the vast space of a cathedral. Meanwhile, the tall metal lamps with large round white bulbs front each column between the bookcases, like streetlamps lining the sidewalks of one of the nearby Back Bay streets.

The three entrances along one long wall of the room each pass under a grand rectangular archway. Those near the ends of the room feature dark marble Corinthian columns finished with bronze. The center arch features delicate ornamentation and sits under the canopy of a second-floor balcony. Classical marble busts stand sentry here and along the entire length of the wall.

Looking up through the casement pattern on one of the large arched windows, I see a narrow perspective on the lights of a tall office building that must be the John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in Boston.

The tone in the room is focused and serious, a stark contrast to the last time I was here the previous Thursday night. At several places in the room, servers dressed in white tended to extravagant spreads on the buffet table. A bar at each end of the room served local beer, wine, and spirits. Jazz musicians in groups of two, three, or four were playing in every room on this floor. It was the Governor’s second inauguration celebration and people were elbowing for space along the center aisle to greet Deval Patrick and his Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray as they came through. Later, I followed Patrick downstairs to see him share his first dance with his wife as a second-term Govenor.

The venue and the party were fit for a king – or an emperor – as I could sense the second I beheld the grand marble staircase flanked by stately lions inside the entrance to the building. Large murals on the walls of this chamber depict classical scenes. The windows look out on the cloister of a snow-covered courtyard with a bronze sculpture posing in the center. Tonight, the party is over and everyone is hard at work trying to restore the empire.

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