What does it mean to a guy balanced on the slippery slope of being over fifty and looking down at what might be the shortest half of his life, to visit Harvard, the Ivy League school? I asked myself that question a few times over the course of our visit to Boston and over the weeks before we left on our trip. My wife Rose and I decided to go to Boston, “for the fall foliage” but really there were quite a few underlying reasons. One of the biggest ones was this, “it is well at any price to have peace in the home”. I believe it was Agatha Christie who said it through Hercule Poirot in one of her novels. Whoever it was who first said it, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment!
I went because my wife wished to go. Also, the new Sony A77 DSLT camera was supposed to be available at that time and I was hoping to persuade her that I needed the new camera to photograph the lovely fall foliage. She would have fallen for it to, but as fate would have it, because of production problems and a flood in Thailand, I had to use my old camera, can you believe it!
Rose spent her early years in Eastern Canada, Newfoundland and Ontario, kicking around various army bases with her parents, her sister and her dog Sporty. She always goes on and on about the red leaves of the trees down east and I finally decided that if I could get a new camera out of the deal and it would end the “red leaves are soooooo beautiful” talk, then it would be well worth whatever it cost.
By the way, Alberta may not have red leaves (except along 97 Street North of 137 Ave.) but when it comes to dog stories, it has way smarter dogs. All of her stories about Sporty involve washing him with tomato juice because a skunk sprayed him, or pulling porcupine quills out of his nose or some other goofy thing like that. But in Alberta we breed amazingly smart dogs like “Duke” who was our family dog when I was a kid. Duke was a cross between Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and that lovable little dog named Lou from the film, Cats and Dogs. He was an action figure of a dog, if he was a people, he would have been GI-Joe or Rambo, (but with a heart of gold). He was a German Shepherd and a very big, smart and opinionated dog from all of the stories my dad told. First off, he didn’t like policemen. I don’t know where he got that, I really don’t, well OK maybe I do, but I’m getting off track here so I’ll only tell you one story today about Duke.
Duke was so smart that while a certain eastern dog was still wondering why the sight of anything black and white, even a cat, made him cringe involuntarily and run for the hills, Duke would patiently wait on the little rug by the back door for his wet feet to dry so he wouldn’t get water on the hardwood floor. I kid you not, even though it must have bugged poor Duke that we kids ran all over like monkeys and he, the dog, was the one with manners.
But we didn’t go to Boston to talk about dogs and the rivalry between eastern Canada and the west doesn’t have a lot to do with dogs, or leaf colour for that matter. We went to Boston because it is steeped in history and it is one of the oldest cities in North America and it is beautiful and we thought it would be fun, and it was!
There was a lot to love about Boston and if I had to pick one thing, red leaves would not be it! As it turns out, it wasn’t a great year for “colour” as the tour bus driver called it. Oh Francis, what a character you are! This guy referred to himself in the third person, “Francis” he would say, “you have a heart of gold” or “Francis tries very hard for you folks, to find some color, yes he does.” He sounded a bit like Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” actually, if you can imagine Gollum saying, “Move that car, ya bum!”
Like most places that I’ve visited, it was the people that were the icing on the cake. All of the wonderful museums and restaurants and attractions and old churches and parks would mean very little if they weren’t peopled by “folk”. I may love to take pictures of the buildings and natural beauty of this world around us, but it really is the people who make it come alive, and the dogs and cats of course.
There are real live people who we interact with as we go about our business and move from place to place who make life special, but there are also those people from the past who made history and who are the soul of those places. Boston is a place like that, populated today and throughout the years with bigger than life people involved in bigger than life events.
You can’t go ten steps in Boston without hearing about Paul Revere and his midnight ride and, “The shot heard around the world.” If I hear one more reference to “the minute men”, or “the Boston Tea party” or “Bunker Hill”, euuuahhhh!!!!
I love history and all of this is fascinating, it really is, and I get tourism, I do, but as with all else in life we need a balanced approach. Boston has a great history and a great story with a place in American lore as a city fuelled by movers and shakers, but that’s the past. Today matters too!
Harvard, in nearby Cambridge, is an amazing place and for me it had a kind of magical aura that lingered and permeated every building, statue, museum, church and cobblestone that we stepped on, visited or passed by. It's steeped in history but still vibrant and alive today.
Sure MIT is newer and cooler in some circles, but HARVARD, what more is there to say? Harvard to me, is a special place and I’m not even sure why, but I loved it. I loved the atmosphere of clever, rushing students, clutching their Starbucks cups and talking with their heads together. I loved the fleet of bicycles that were everywhere and the tweed jackets and scarves and messenger bags of the Professors and students. I loved the Harvard Yard and the maples turning colour as the people sat under them reading or working on their laptops in one of the hundreds of brightly coloured chairs that looked like they could stand up to just about anything.