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[Tuesday, March 18, 2003]


The bean and the cod

So, here I am on the free soil of Old Massachusetts, and it is spring, and my talk went well. Some observations, completely lacking in synthesis:

  • To be someone in Boston, it seems like you need to moonlight; one job just isn't enough. The archetype here is of course Samuel Adams, Brewer and Patriot; but a quick trawl of public statues has also produced a Sailor and Historian and a Preacher of the Word of God and Lover of His Fellow Men. Mind you, Sumner has several statues, including a very chilled sitting-down one in Douglas MacArthur Square in Cambridge, none of them bearing a job description at all.

  • A local fast-food chain, the Boston Chowda Co., serves Paul Revere Chili. Only after ordering and eating it did it occur to me to hope that it didn't result in any midnight rides to the bathroom. Okay, I'm sure I'm far from the first person to make that joke, but hey, I'm from out of town.

  • Okay, back to public statuary. The representative ones are standard enough, but the more symbolic ones verge on the strange. For instance, there's a corner of Boston Common with three statues representing "Religion", "Industry", and "Learning", all of them men kneeling astride some emblematic object. "Religion" is kneeling on a very spiky five-pointed star, looking exquisitely uncomfortable. "Industry" is kneeling astride a dodecahedron, of all things, and up close you can see that he's riveting the frame of it together, but from far away it just looks like he's doing it. A voice within says, dude, he's getting all hot and heavy with a Platonic solid. It's not right. "Science" kneels astride the Earth, and would also look like it was slipping it to the globe, except that he is consulting a book in his hand with a puzzled look -- what is it, Raping the Earth for Dummies?

  • Building numbers on Park Street start at zero. Yay!

  • There are not one but two Irish Famine memorials, one in Boston proper and the other in Cambridge. The one in Cambridge works better, I think: a single oblong block with figures atop it, and just the dates and the legend "Never again shall a people starve in the midst of a world of plenty", where the Boston memorial has several blocks of figures scattered about a small square, and about a half-dozen of the little memorial plaques. Doubtless the Boston one is more informative if you had never heard of the Great Hunger, but the Cambridge memorial is more powerful, and more general. Cambridge Common also has a Civil War memorial not dissimilar to Boston Common's, but it boasts a statue of Lincoln standing under the canopy looking rather smug at having arranged to stay out of the rain. Guess being Commander-in-Chief has its perks.

Writing about the Famine memorials reminds me of watching the History Bites segment about the Great Hunger, which a friend co-wrote, and realizing as I watched that, as far as I was concerned, it was still Too Soon for wackiness.

posted 4:39 PM |