A Minnesota governor, whose name I wish I could forget, said St. Paul’s streets were laid out by a drunken Irishmen. He should see Boston!
Around Harvard, which is technically Cambridge and not Boston, major streets converge on the university like spokes in a wheel. They seem to run into one another and change names, and veer off in other directions. Some are wide, many are narrow – many too narrow for today’s large fire engines, and many bridges too low, so Boston has specially-manufactured small fire engines.
We are staying on a main street, Cambridge Street in Cambridge, about a five-minute walk from Harvard. Cambridge adjoins Boston and Somerville, where Ron lived when he was in graduate school. On our first evening, we walked to a Spanish tapas restaurant, only a few blocks from our hotel, and crossed the line from Cambridge into Somerville.
We are staying at “A Friendly Inn,” which is the dark red brick building at the left in the photo above. For the first three nights, we stayed in the second floor room on the right – we’ll see what room we get when we return for the last two nights.
I spent a lot of time walking around Harvard and Cambridge each morning, enjoying the exploration so much that I didn’t even take time to stop for coffee and writing. Besides Harvard, which is a story in itself, I walked through Cambridge Common, with its Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Irish Potato Famine memorials. Cambridge Common, like Boston Common, is now a public park. I think that, like Boston Common, it began as a place for the city’s residents to graze their cattle. That was way back in the 1630s. Rich people put too many cows in Boston Common, leading to overgrazing, so in 1646 each family was limited to a smaller number of cows.
In 1713, the Boston Common saw a food riot, as people protested a wealthy merchant exporting grain for bigger profits while they went hungry. Then came the British army, camping in the Common at the start of the Revolutionary War. The city grew. The Common remained public ground, and was used for public hangings. In 1830, the rich and powerful people who lived on Beacon Hill objected to the smells from the Common and cows were banned. Since then, the Common has become a public park and the site of all kinds of public gatherings and protests. As our trolley rolled past, a parade of police cars with flashing lights drove slowly along the fence, around the inside of the Common – no one on the trolley knew what the parade was about, but it reminded me of how much of our history and shared civic life seems based in conflicts and wars.
Our trolley ride began on the street where Google and Facebook both have major headquarters buildings. From there, we crossed the Charles River and heard about Paul Revere and John Hancock and Sam Adams and George Washington – and saw the building where the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony. Onward – to Boston Harbor (above, left), which is lined with tall, modern buildings, all new within the past 20 years. Out on the harbor cruise, we saw the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest naval vessel in continuous service in the world (above, right). Every year they take it out to sail a mile, just so that its “continuous service” record is preserved.
The photo above from downtown Boston shows the old and new, side-by-side, as they seem to be throughout the city.