Sunday, May 15, 2011

Water to Water

With MIT at my back, I run over the Longfellow Bridge. I've crossed this bridge countless times on the Red Line train -- As the train rises from underground to a panoramic view of the Charles, I always twist around in my seat for a look. The first time I ran over this bridge was unbelievable and crossing the Charles today is just as good.

In the sunlight of this perfect Friday morning, the river shimmers. To the right, the Statehouse's gold dome, the bricks and the leafy trees of Back Bay, glass skyscrapers, and the CITGO sign, looking not so tall. To the left, the cables of the Zakim Bridge, framed by Science Park and stocky MGH buildings.

God, it's a gorgeous day -- the kind of day Bostonians pray for -- and I'm sharing the bridge with runners and others walking to work. A right on Charles Street, and I'm in Beacon Hill. I'm aware of few things -- the smell of coffee brewing, commuters in shirtsleeves and spring skirts, the uneven sidewalk. My right sneaker strikes the bricks in time with the beat of DMB's American Baby.

A left on Beacon Street, up the hill, past the Statehouse. I cross Tremont Street, sprinting across the street as the light changes. Left on Washington, right on State. The small streets of the Financial District are busy -- black cars and black suits -- and I'm weaving through crowds.  It's a straight shot now to my destination. I pass office buildings, construction sites and cops, Irish bars. The blocks go by quickly and I'm across Atlantic, passing the Aquarium T stop and the Chart House, and then suddenly at the end of Long Wharf. River to harbor, water to water.

The harbor is spectacular and I give it a moment's look, knowing I can't possibly appreciate the view fully. Then I turn to find landmarks laid out in front of me. I pick out the neoclassical Custom House Tower -- I just read Dennis Lehane's Prayers for Rain, so I think right away of the character who jumps off the observation deck, commits suicide, and sets in motion the intrigue of the book.

Is that the Old Grain Exchange off to the left? There was a time when I knew every monument and historically significant building in Boston and could cite the year built, the architect, and the style. I'm an architecture and urban design junkie: I like old maps, floorplans, and photographs of intricate moldings and ironwork. I like the way that Beacon and Commonwealth run parallel to each other, converge and cross at Kenmore Square, and then switch names. I like that the only building Le Corbusier designed in North America is on the Harvard campus and I like the elegant curve of the Sears Crescent block, following the curve of a road that no longer exists, in contrast to the angular and imposing City Hall building. These facts and landmarks frame my consciousness, my understanding of Boston, my sense of distance, place, orientation. And I play a game of Connect-the-Dots: I string together buildings, roads, alleys, and views to make my own mental map and to choose my routes through Boston.

But, enough about architecture. I begin again, picking up my pace quickly. This time, harbor to river.

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