Friday, April 22, 2011

rare vacationing

I left the beloved hometown on Sunday afternoon, driving to Akron-Canton to take the Airtran and be amused at the massive amount of Rush fans populating the terminal and the Ohioana for sale mostly having to do with tractors and Amish people, whose cookbook included recipes for "Jimmy Carter Pudding." There was also a piece of artwork on display in the lobby with this title:

I'm always jittery about flying, though fascinated by being on top of clouds, looking over the Atlantic Ocean and the waves breaking on a seashore a few miles below, knowing that people fly every day but wondering if my last moments of this life will consist of reading "Midnight's Children" and plunging into the salty brine of Davy Jones' Locker.

I have no TSA horror stories, being an unassuming fair-complexioned Caucasian female, and somehow avoided the naked scan though my traveling companion was subjected to it. It does creep me out to see men in blue shirts walking around with big guns in the airport like they're overcompensating a whole lot and hope there's somebody to shoot but anyone who knows me knows I've got a somewhat irrational dislike of men with guns.

Public transit was super easy and we got from the airport to the station easily though we were squished in among a sea of Celtics fans and one guy said I should be taking pictures of "The Gahden" instead of the graffiti on the building across the way.

We started walking in search of food and ended up in the Beacon Hill neighborhood with its gorgeous apartment buildings and narrow streets that are nothing like what I see around where I'm from.

We walked back to watch the sun set over the bridge and the lights of the city come on and caught the train to Acton where we went the wrong direction down Main Street in total darkness past lots of old homes and woods that should scare me since I'm in a small New England town of the kind where nearly all horror fiction seems to take place and bad things happen to clueless young women, but it was such a beautiful night and I was euphoric to be out of the airplane and figuring my way out through unfamiliar surroundings.

We never did meet the lady whose house we stayed in, but the keys were taped to the door and we woke up early to find coffee and bagels before heading out to meet my traveling companion's aunt at the marathon. The Green Line was packed with people and we ended up in some swanky suburb with huge houses where people had grills and space heaters going in the front yard and their kids jumped around in those inflatable play palaces. Every single dog we saw was purebred.

It was like 4th of July or something. People were friendly to us out of towners and invited us to hang out on porches and such, but we ended up walking from Mile 20 to Mile 17 past people in lawn chairs, Japanese girls waving banners, hippies banging drums, Ethiopians waving flags, bros getting drunk, vendors selling fried dough and hot dogs because nothing says spectator sport like watching people do athletic things while you get fat, as the first runners came down the street.

My friend wanted to go to the finish line and watch everyone come in but it was just too many people for me so we split up and I used my transit pass to explore, hitting up bookstores, wandering through old cemeteries, going to the People's Republic of Cambridge to dig through bins at record stores, take pictures of graffiti in alleys, wander around while eating takeout Indian food and people-watching.

From there, I went to Harvard Square to explore some more, take pictures of old buildings, cutting through the campus and its surroundings, down side streets and alleys, observing a world so different from my own. Thanks to some National Merit recognition and a very good ACT score, Harvard actually sent me an application when I was in high school but decided that I really wouldn't fit in there, opting for the less illustrious option of the state school known to most as a place that Neil Young wrote a song about.

I didn't mind looking completely out of place, scruffy in an old Rites of Spring t-shirt and black hoodie, because I'm a stranger here, a tourist in a world that feels like a living J. Crew catalog with the collegiate/preppy/old money atmosphere complete with shops for all your lacrosse/squash needs, walking past a seemingly endless procession of Bright Young Things and people in suits. There was also a man playing a hurdy-gurdy on the corner. That was awesome, but I forgot to take a picture of him.

I go into culture shock every time I'm surrounded by all white people, which is ironic since I grew up in Parma but I must not have been in other parts of the city or on the wrong train lines because everyone around me seemed to be affluent and Caucasian, the only exception being Chinatown and the surrounding area. While I venture into sundry sketchy neighborhoods on a regular basis in Thieveland, I figured I wouldn't test my luck alone in a big strange city.

By this time, the sun began to set, and I went back to North Station to wait for the next train, watched the Celtics and the Bruins on a small TV in the waiting area, and made my way back to the house.

We did the Freedom Trail the next morning with a suitably snarky tour guide who gave us a hard time about our losing sports team and traded historical re-enactment anecdotes with my fellow traveler who does Underground Railroad and Voyageurs experiences for inner-city schoolkids. I think I spent most of my sputnik turista time here hanging out in cemeteries and taking pictures of gravestones replete with skulls and creepy angels.

It was rainy and cold so we split up again, because days like this are perfect for museums and I wanted to see the MFA and the Gardner, which was the most amazing place I've ever been. I felt like I was somewhere in Europe when I walked inside the Venetian-style palazzo into a world of tiled walls, a lush courtyard, dark rooms full of candelabra and tapestries, and three floors of art from marble sarcophagi to parts of altarpieces, paintings of angels, works by Degas, Raphael, and Botticelli.

Photography being verboten, I took a few pictures sans flash when out of view of the security, but thankfully there are better views courtesy of the Internet. I wish this place was next door to me because I'd be there all the time.

From there, I went around the corner to the absolutely huge Museum of Fine Arts where I got to see the Chihuly exhibit,

feel small next to chunks of Egyptian temples

and get up close to mummies, Japanese prints, paintings by El Greco and Monet.

Our last day, we slept in, went hiking in the woods down the street,

ended up at the science museum with the dinosaur out front, and killed time downtown where I was amused by stoners making a statement about weed legalization in front of the Civil Rights Monument, took pictures of the gigantic Masonic lodge, was amused bypigeons in front of cherry blossom trees,
bought cheap and gorgeous art books (there were so many amazing bookstores),

and ended up in Chinatown before catching the train back to the airport where she bought various Sanrio products as I took pictures of buildings with pagoda facades and ate purple and green biscuits that were theoretically flavored with taro and green tea.

They offered to re-route me to Atlanta and give me round trip tickets, but I was tired and ready to go home so I declined, felt jittery as we went through turbulence after hearing all about "horizontal tornadoes" flipping airplanes on CNN, but I got home safely and buzzed on bad coffee as the man next to me talked about his wife and drank lots of Jack Daniels.

Drove home up I-77 listening to the entirety of "Welcome to Sky Valley," to my now-much-smaller-looking city, finding comfort in the familiarity of empty streets, all-night diners, and my couch. I felt so refreshed even in being exhausted, so glad to be gone from Ohio for a few days, yet so happy to be home.


Randal Graves said...

Yeah, well, your abandoned coworkers surely had way more fun at the library. Just ask them.

Jimmy Carter Pudding? No wonder we never see that guy any more.

Dammit, now I wanna go on vacation.

Anonymous said...

sounds lovely, it's a nice place to be if one isn't commuting daily, there really are only a few cities worth the name in the US so we need a better word for the places where the rest of us live.