World Famous Bull Market, Quincy Market

Sunday, January 23rd, 6:24pm

I have lived in Boston my entire life. Have walked along the Freedom Trail and over the cobblestone paths, past Faneuil Hall. Have climbed the stairs, walked between the columns. Never once have I heard this place called Boston’s World Famous Bull Market, which the front door says should have closed at 6.

Forcing my way in through the cracked-open door left ajar by someone who has just exited the market. I hustle past the closing-up ice cream stand, Starbucks, the bagel shop, the chowder counter with the stools flipped up on the counters, and past a fair number of people still strolling the main artery. I am still recovering from the bitter, bitter cold of my walk over here even as I claim a table near the center-most spot in the great rotunda and eating hall that serves as the origin point of this entire market complex. A janitor is walking around wiping down tables (including the unoccupied other half of my table) and emptying the trash, which is no small task as it turns out. The large, standard-issue gray metal drums are everywhere it seems, lest anyone wander more than a few steps through this assembly line of consumption without having somewhere to discard the empty containers of the already-consumed to make room in their hands for the still-to-be-consumed.

The large open space of the two-story brick building bears the marks of determined adaptive re-use. Retro advertising signs – whether authentic or reproductions – adorn the interior brick walls: Scales*Cutlery*Baskets; Carroll & Liley: Butcher Supplies, Grinding, Saw Filing; Empire Fruit Co: Distributors of Applecrest Apples; EGGS. One can imagine this place filled with the sounds of vendors hawking their home-made wares and skilled services. What were large-framed windows and doors are now apertures into the outer wings of the building, which house rows of Boston-themed souvenir carts under a canopy of glass reinforced by a cross-hatch of thick, black, steel beams. Through the glass, I can see the speckles of white Christmas lights on the trees and the “Urban” of Urban Outfitters, one of the South Market Shops across the way.

Gazing up and around me, I notice a saying that wraps around the inner rim of the second floor balcony: This Building Has Served the People of Boston as the Central Market of the City since its Dedication in August, 1826. Through this oval ring, the ellipse of the grand domed ceiling looks distorted and two-dimensional. Like the ceiling, the white, plasticky, Doric columns that support the balcony and that line the arcade of the food court mingle classical style with shoddy modern-day commercial workmanship. The array of placards and signs that jut out along the entire length of the colonnade to draw customers in erases any aura of a pre-capitalist, industrial, or ancient space. A triangular yellow caution sign stamped with the red logo for Rubbermaid Commercial Products sits smack-dab in the middle of the rotunda as a safety measure against any potential lawsuits.

As I climb the steps to the second floor, it seems fitting that the balcony is temporarily closed for remodeling. Equipment for the renovation is neatly arranged in one corner, as if set up for a picture. Nearby, a contractor stares out the window and yaks into his cell phone. A couple, seeking peace from the frenzy of the downstairs, sit together in intimate conversation with their backs leaning against the far wall. Now a painter stands on the stairs I have just ascended and uses a long roller to paint a new coat of whitewash on the interior of this historic building.

I imagine not all that much has changed here. A sales job is a sales job. Looking to buy a taste of Boston? The shops are closed for the night. But if you do make it back to the market, don’t believe the bull: no matter how they paint it, they’ve all sold out.

Boston.com just ran a cool photo slideshow comparing images of Boston: Then and Now (including a great one of Quincy Market)

Washington St. and State St./Court St.

Monday, December 13th, 5:40pm

Mesmerized by the frontage of the Old State House, I feel the low rumble below me of an Orange or Blue Line train pulling into or out of State Street Station. The December evening is relatively warm after two days of rain and rush hour is in full force around me. Seven or eight idling engines line up in front of me on Washington St., waiting for two green arrows to usher them to the left onto Court St.

Three branches come together here to form a T that looks more like a T: Washington (honoring our first executive), State (so named for this one-time home of the Massachusetts legislature), and Court (the judicial branch, leading toward Scollay Square). Despite being the intersection of two one-way streets, this crossing feels more like four- or five-ways because of the pedestrian traffic. People walk in and out of the entrance to the T out of view on the far side of the State House. Others walk up and down the wide plaza leading to Government Center and City Hall Plaza or the brick Freedom Trail pass-through to Congress St. alongside the State House.

The majesty of the Old State House

I am sitting on one of a series of fashionable wooden benches on a raised stone plaza, which continues to tremble from the comings and goings of the subway below. The benches are covered with sparse drops of leftover rain and hardly anyone uses them (aside from a rather unskilled skateboarder who fumbles over a jump onto one of the benches and quickly skates away down the street to seek a new practice location). The plaza’s small trees, decked in white Christmas lights, match the lighted wreaths inside the plate-glass entrance to the BNY Mellon Center, one of the many tall, modern, financial office towers that have grown up all around the stately three-level brick building across the street. Some variation of the same pattern of plate-glass, lit intermittently by numbing fluorescence, delineates each of the dozens of floors in these skyscrapers.

Meanwhile, most of the action on ground-level surrounds the Old State House, which stands majestic, the 300-year-old village elder of this neighborhood. The cornice and Doric columns of the classical wooden façade allude to an even more ancient era. Over the entrance, a golden eagle perches with wings spread, ready to take off. Atop the illuminated white tower of the building, stands a golden weathervane, rising through a rare opening between the buildings where clouds brush quickly across the blue-black evening sky.

Along the Freedom Trail, next to the Old State House, a lonely cart stands adorned with Boston and Harvard T-shirts; the vendor sits out of sight, hood pulled up, leaning against the brick wall of the historic building, his chair empty.

A lonely vendor cart sits along the Freedom Trail