Museum of Fine Arts, Huntington Ave. and Museum Rd.

Wednesday, February 9th, 5:22pm

I don’t know why but I expected something different when I walked. Maybe it was the monumental entrance. The MVSEVM OF FINE ARTS inscription emblazoned above four Ionic columns and below the ornate pediment over the front entrance. The broad curved stone driveway wrapping around an enormous mesa of white snow. Floating above the snow, a Native American thrusts himself forward atop his horse. He spreads his arms wide in welcome. As I walk up along Huntington Avenue, one sweeping wing of this grand classical building is framed by the two tallest buildings in Boston.

The first hint was an engraving on the stone embankment that flanks each side of the front staircase: Bank of America Plaza on the Avenue of the Arts. I walk in the building to see a row of people staring at me. Some combination of bored and fatigued, they splay themselves on padded benches. They are lined up behind a marble statue whose back is reflected on the glass wall behind them. Through the glass I can glimpse a marble staircase and some columns. There is no window-shopping to be done here. Even if anything interesting were in sight, the glare of the glass would be too blinding.

In this front hall, the ceiling is low and the space is cramped. There is competition for the limited seating options. They don’t roll out the red carpet for you in quite the same way as, say, the Boston Public Library does. To the left of the row of benches, two electronic ticketing kiosks stand begging for money. Further to the left, I see an opening, a hallway leading into the bowels of the museum. Not so fast! A sign printed on the stone wall on either side of the opening warns, “EXIT ONLY: PLEASE DO NOT ENTER.” An empty black swivel chair covers for a guard who lets the signs do the talking. I am not the only one misled by this hallway – even visitors waving their member cards in the air walk through the entrance and look around like little lost lambs until a guard returns to direct them around to the opposite side of the vestibule where the entrance is located.

Turning to my left, there is a tunnel of light – the Huntington Gift Shop. I take a few steps inside and just as quickly turn around, too apathetic to proceed any further. Next, I try the right side of the front hall. I see another hallway, parallel to the first. Foiled again. This time, the two guards chatting at the entrance have an official stand. Another beam of light beckons from further to the right. I turn to see the bright LED screens and white ropes of the ticket counter. I approach just close enough to see “Adults $20” and promptly turn around.

I had no intention of sneaking into the museum. I was simply hoping to explore a bit, to take a look around before deciding whether I wanted to see more. Instead I snag a low seat in one of the small compartments immediately on the right and left of the front entrance. Each chamber features a marble statue and a low heater, which serves as a de facto bench. One of the heaters has already been claimed, so I head for the other spot and take a seat near Cleopatra.

The marble queen of the Nile leans her head back in a moment of respite from her responsibilities. As she reaches her left arm up and behind her to support her head, her gown slips and exposes her right nipple. A much better customer service experience.

I didn’t need to see the full monty; I just wanted a little peek.

Tremont St. and St. Alphonsius St.

Thursday, December 9th, 12:05pm

As I walk along Tremont St. from the direction of Brigham Circle, straight ahead I see a hearse, bedecked with flowers, preparing to lead a funeral train around the corner and down St. Alphonsius St. A police car bursts out into the intersection and parks diagonally right in the middle. The cop jumps out and stops traffic in every direction, as the hearse takes its right turn and the funeral march begins. The line of cars is seemingly endless and now traffic is backed up in every direction.

The police stop traffic as a funeral procession rounds the corner.

After some time, the cop hops back in his car and zooms toward the front of the line.  With careful timing a second officer immediately takes over his position, ensuring no interruption in duty. Finally, the last car makes the turn and a third police car vacates the intersection. No time to linger and help clean up the mess. Cars speed loudly through the intersection with pent-up aggression. Tremont St. soon clears up, but the unfortunate souls on St. Alphonsius remain backed up for some time at the mercy of the short light cycle they face.

With the funeral gone, the walk signals now beep loudly to announce that it is safe to cross Tremont St. Church bells chime from the high towers of Mission Church, just up the road. I remember that this is where Ted Kennedy’s funeral was held a summer ago. As I recall, it was pouring rain that day. Today, the sun shines bright and blinding in a perfectly clear blue sky. But at this bitterly cold lunchtime, the sun provides no warmth. My instantly condensing breath clouds my view. The pedestrians nearby seem generally undeterred by the cold and well-prepared with their hoods pulled up and their hats and gloves pulled on tight.

Hearing ambulances from the direction of the Longwood Medical Area, I glance down St. Alphonsius St. toward Huntington Ave. Directly behind me stands a brick high-rise apartment building called the Longwood. A banner across the wrought-iron fence reads “Now Renting.” I notice these high-rises are germane to the North side of Tremont St, which functions as a distinct architectural border between two neighborhoods. The south side of the street is lined with archetypal Boston triple-deckers that wind up St. Alphonsius St. onto Mission Hill.  To my right I hear coins rattling. I turn to see the bundled meter maid emptying a parking meter into her cart.  I don’t envy her task on this day.  It is time for me to seek warmth.

The towers of Mission Church through the trees.

The view up St. Alphonsius St. toward Mission Hill

Gainsborough St. and St. Stephen St.

Monday, November 29th, 6:20pm

After my first day back to work post-Thanksgiving, I am sitting on a cold stone wall near the corner of two quiet, residential, one-way streets in the Fenway. The crisp fall evening air gives this intersection a subtle energy. The flashing red stoplights on Gainsborough St. take turns with the flashing yellows on St. Stephen to referee the surprising flow of pedestrians and automobiles.

The traffic is steady, but moderate enough that no one ever has to stop for long on their way through. Cars that just turned off Huntington Ave. or Mass. Ave. – two of the city’s major thoroughfares, each only a block away in different directions – cautiously obey the alternating signals. Walkers might pause just a second if a car happens to block their way, but they soon proceed undisturbed across the street.

There is a gentle give and take between cars and pedestrians at the intersection.

Pedestrians are safe to approach the intersection from the most convenient angle available. They will cross from between two of the parked cars that line both sides of each street and form a protective fence around the sidewalks. They will walk right down the middle of the street if no car is coming. They will ignore the square of clearly delineated crosswalks to cross diagonally to the opposite corner. A bicyclist with a blinking strobe light on her helmet rides the wrong way up St. Stephen St. and then pauses upon reaching the intersection to tie her shoe by the side of the road.

Many of the residents of the three-story, bay-windowed, split-level brownstones on these tree-lined streets must be Northeastern students. Perhaps they are clients of the real estate office on the corner, with pictures of properties displayed in the window. Whoever they are, they have not missed a beat in coming back from the break. They walk their dogs; they walk with friends; they talk on cell phones. They head back from class with their backpacks and messenger bags. They head out to practice with their hockey bags. I notice a different body language in those heading home and those heading back out – people walk with more of a purpose when they just want to get home.

Hardly anyone actually stops here. Just one girl stands on the corner opposite from me. She is anxiously looking around for the companion she is meeting. She stands in front of a wrought-iron fence that surrounds a broad lawn outside a big, cozy church. No one leaves or enters the church. Outdoor lights illuminate the brick walls of the placid building. A warm glow emanates from deep within.

The Pru towers over this residential neighborhood.

The lights throughout the neighborhood project the warmth of the Christmas season, now officially underway. Red, green, and white bulbs adorn the windows of a home across the street. Streetlights up and down St. Stephen St. provide a sense of security for pedestrians and drivers alike. Bright white Christmas lights vitalize the naked trees that line Gainsborough St. as the road kinks to the left just past the intersection. The lighted outline of the Prudential Center tower shines through the winter branches that form the St. Stephen St. canopy.

Suddenly a loud trio of college students is bustling across the street toward me. They surround the blue pickup truck crookedly parked at the curb in front of me, peer inside the cab, then hop in the payload to busy themselves bantering, with cold-defying exuberance, about who will sit in back with the tree. Finally, their friend arrives with the keys. After an exchange of hugs and a brief discussion over her failure to answer her cell phone, the four friends pile into the front cab, some on top of others. Throwing a brief glance around the intersection, the driver hits the gas and motors down the rows of lighted trees, around the corner, and out of sight. The girl who was standing in front of the church is long gone. All that remains is the smell of exhaust that lingers and then slowly dissipates through the brisk night.