Our fair city

So my roommate C-t-P and I were talking the other night about our adopted hometown and those people who (for whatever reason) are grimly counting the days until their schooling is complete and they can flee to the dry, arid West. Less than twelve hours later I had a similar conversation with a new acquaintance, who is “unconvinced” that Boston has any advantages over the relentless dazzling glamour of the city situated a four-hour careening Fung Wah adventure to the south. All this Boston-derogation made me think of some of the many, many reasons I love this city; if I have to live in the US, it’s gotta be here.

I love that for my birthday in late February I did misshapen cartwheels on a Walden Pond still gloriously frozen (though the ice was somewhat disconcertingly thin in a few places) and that in just a few short months that same pond will offer the thrilling flowing glide of warm water over bare skin. I love warm nights in Harvard Square, complete with cacophonic street musicians and spare-changers and punk kids and uneven red bricks that sometimes trip even seasoned Bostonians. I love the invigorating gold and crimson autumn leaves that form a gorgeously colorful, rustly, slightly acrid blanket over the sidewalks from October through early December. I love the Red Sox and their maniacal fans and the Green Monster. I love zipping from the Fenway to the Riverway to the Arborway to the Jamaicaway and back again (though it’s a rather indirect route) in my car that sounds like an airplane right before I shift into third gear. I love that four out of the five apartments I’ve lived in have been quintessentially New England and therefore adorable, with gorgeous golden-brown hardwood floors and crown molding and tons of light and air (absolutely essential for a Seattle refugee) and built-in china cabinets; the other one—the epitome of all that is horrid in architecture, interior design, maintenance, and general liveability—is gasp-for-air-hysterically described here (make sure you read the comments). I love the weeping willows by the pond in the Public Garden and the Park Street Church whose hourly chimes play “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” during December in a beautiful flowing plainsong rhythm. I love strolling across the Boston Common in the spring when the trees are green with new leaves and life. I love howling Nor’easters where the whole house trembles in the impossible wind that moves curtains through closed windows and where the rain or snow propels itself horizontally into foolishly unprotected skin so that the few pedestrians outside walk backward to avoid the sting of innumerable microscopic ice crystals—and I love returning home to a warm, golden-wood-floored apartment where I can curl up with a fuzzy blanket and hot chocolate and a book like The Remains of the Day in a chair next to a window and watch the storm rage unabated outside. I love wandering through Quincy Market on the way to another blissful cannoli in the North End and returning through the Haymarket just as it closes and stand owners give away three butternut squash and a smattering of radishes for a dollar. I love running along the Charles River or around Fresh Pond (when I don’t have a way-too-much-running-related injury—these days I love driving through the quaint New-England-architectury town of Winchester for physical therapy). I love the Rapunzel Tower in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, from which you can see the “Mormon tabernacle” (as the locals know it) perched atop the hill to the west before wandering through the gold-red splendor of autumn leaves or the exhilarating blooms and leaves against the backdrop of a cerulean sky in spring. I love, love, love that statues of not just ducks but frogs (FROGS!) decorate the Boston Common; I love that New England citizens young and old don elaborate period costumes for pre-daylight Revolutionary War reenactments in Lexington and Concord; I love Salem in all its October wannabe-sinister kitsch. I love the used book section at the Harvard Bookstore. I love that this city was freaking cool enough to host a live taping of This American Life and that I thus got to see Ira Glass in person (albeit from far, far away).

And of course I love the people here—this quirky, charming, high-achieving city attracts characters who are similarly quirky, charming, and high-achieving but that are somehow simultaneously down to earth—who seem to prefer elbow-patched tweed to the sequins and power suits of the southern 2/3 of the Megalopolis. These are people who do amazing things, not just for themselves but for the world (in a very literal sense), and not for accolades or so that they can pseudo-self-deprecatingly discuss their achievements in boardrooms and at glitterati-laced cocktail parties but because they genuinely care about people. Yes, there are pretentious people here—more than one café is crowded with future Intelligentsia who discuss their Kierkegaard theses a little too loudly, while the white-haired Old Boys sequester themselves in red-leather-and-dark-wood faculty rooms and bemoan a world full of people who simply will not understand their particular brand of bespectacled genius—but I have the privilege (and it’s admittedly a great one; I’ve done nothing to deserve it) of living in a charmed environment, surrounded by people who don’t fit those stereotypes, who are genuinely humble even as they’re breathtakingly and effortlessly extraordinary. (I attended a fireside given by one such man last night; officially reinforced is my determination to move heaven and earth to hear him speak whenever I possibly can.) There’s our stake president, a seemingly rigid professor who suddenly bursts into impromptu ballroom dance steps during combined priesthood/Relief Society meetings (his adorably idiosyncratic first counselor just might simulate an airplane in the same meeting). There’s the stake choir director, impossibly brilliant and stunningly insightful, whose writing is so beautiful that she could pen a 2,000-word treatise on the benefits of convection heating and I would read the essay over and over and over. There’s the seminary teacher with an incredible gift for reaching and inspiring her students. There’s the man who speaks at least 17 languages (most of these fluently), and the women at top medical and law schools who also just happen to be incredibly gifted pianists, and the man who knows everything about everything from geology to robots to sailing to rowing to music to business to Irish dancing to the best days to see the autumn leaves and spring flowers in the afore-celebrated Mount Auburn Cemetery. There’s my roommate, who started a charity to help kids in Ecuador who can’t afford go to school, and another friend who gave up a prestigious job to face an uncertain year heading a struggling microfinance bank in Kenya, living in a cement-floored apartment with occasional plumbing and mostly effective mosquito nets. This list doesn’t even begin to cover them all. All of them brilliantly gifted; all of them startlingly humble.

And then there’s the handful of friends I’ve become especially close to (a.k.a. the Rapid Response team), who really make life here special—I do love all the things I’ve described, and then some, but it’s midnight Monkee-walks across the Boston Common and occasional arm-flailing shrieks of “BUG HUG! BUG HUG!” and spontaneous trips to the Noath Shoah and/or Maine and/or New Hampshire and special treats of cinnamon-raisin bread and daily apartment prayer that really make up life, not occasional encounters with great people (though those are certainly worth having). I’ve made some of the best friends of my life during the past four years, and I’m inexpressibly grateful for these people who make up songs and write impromptu poems like “Ode to Morning Face”* on my bathroom mirror and race wildly on foot and/or with carts through the IKEA parking lot and transform inexplicably legless Easter turkeys into pale pink bunny heads (with the aid of knives, raisins, and variegated toothpicks) and miraculously make shopping for clothes into an altogether pleasant experience and fix things like my methinks page when I break them and listen to me when I’ve had a rotten day (or week, or month) and constantly share their wit and compassion and charm and general brilliance. AKK (who shall return!), C_H, C-t-P, J_H, LADH, and SDY: Woot, to the power of infinity plus a googolplex.

*”Ode to Morning Face” by C_H

O beautiful when first I rise
My amber** mop of hair
And purple bags beneath my eyes
Will make the kiddos stare!
It’s morning face, O morning face…

**This isn’t quite an accurate description at the moment, though it may be nearer the truth in the fall or so. But then, I tend to favor a more burgundy than amber color when I’m a redhead, given my eye color and skin tone…