lost, for a little while

destination: boston
April 6, 2011, 10:30 pm
Filed under: trips

These cities are all starting to look the same to me

I lived in Boston for two months during the summer after my junior year of college; I sublet a room from a friend of a friend in a basement apartment just next to Northeastern’s campus. My roommates were two girls who couldn’t stand each other, the kitchen was infested with mice, and the only window in my room looked out into the back alley of the building, where the trash cans were stored. That was a pretty lame summer.

My friend, Adrienne, however, currently resides in an upper-level apartment situated at the corner of the Boston Commons. Her apartment building used to be a fancy-schmancy hotel, and I certainly treated it that way while I stayed with her (she has many delightful-smelling soaps and lotions). I had some lofty tourist ambitions to go with my hotel digs, and was intent on checking off some of the more well-known sites during this visit.

The first morning, I dragged Adrienne across the river to see the Bunker Hill Monument, something I never saw when I lived in Boston, and something I never even knew existed when I lived in Boston. Spoiler: It’s a giant pillar 294 steps high. Good for some cardio, but the hike up the steps will be the only thing that gets your heart racing — it’s a bit of a snooze. When I first looked it up, it was mentioned that there are great views from the top, and there are; unfortunately, they’re only available through scratched Plexiglas that isn’t camera-friendly.

The U.S.S. Constitution

Up next was the U.S.S. Constitution Museum. To enjoy this museum, you need either small children, or two 20-somethings with the maturity levels of small children. Guess which requirement we fulfilled?

The first floor of the museum is pretty straight-forward, with paintings of “Old Ironsides,” some model boats, and a riveting display that covers different types of wood and what part of the ship they were used to build. Upstairs is where it gets more interesting.

A large stuffed goat hangs from the ceiling above the staircase, periodically letting loose some obnoxious bleats. There’s a checklist hanging in the first room that lets you compare yourself to the average sailor from that time-period, or, if you’re me, see how boyfriend-worthy they would have been (conclusion: too short, often illiterate, frequently missing an appendage). Also on the second floor: a costume trunk with sailor gear, suspended hammocks (super comfortable), and a partial ship deck that lets you try your hand at hoisting sails (or knocking your friend overboard).


Day two, I decided to fulfill a dream of mine: visiting the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. There was just one small problem — the museum was all the way in Amherst, Massachusetts. Ordinarily, a setback such as this would ruin my plans (too far, waste of gas, waste of money), but not this time. Adrienne’s in the publishing program at Emerson and wants to work with kids’ books, so she wasn’t backing out, either. We went.

The truth is, unless you’re slightly obsessed with illustration and picture books, this museum might not be worth the drive (if you’re in Amherst, though, what are you waiting for? There’s certainly not much else around there). If I could have timed the visit to coincide with an exhibit that featured one of my favorite illustrators, it would have been perfect, but as it was, I had fun comparing the different styles and content that were on display, as well as learning about Carle’s life (why was it never mentioned in school that he’s from Syracuse?). And, in the end, the museum store alone was worth the $6 admission fee. If you lack self-restraint, you might go home considerably poorer.

Located in sketchy Jamaica Plains

Wednesday, Adrienne was scrambling to finish a final project, so I was on my own. In an effort to continue my free-spree (neither the Bunker Hill Monument or the U.S.S. Constitution Museum had admission fees), I decided to take the T to Jamaica Plains and tour the Sam Adams Brewery that’s there. Even with directions from the homeless man outside the station, I had a hard time actually getting to the brewery, but eventually made it and joined a group that consisted of die-hard beer aficionados, college students playing hooky, and tourists. Our guide, Adam, was dorky but passionate, and provided some interesting information about the brewing process and basic ingredients of beer. But let’s not kid ourselves; everyone who comes for the tour is really just there for the free beer. Each person is given a 7-ounce tasting glass (for keeps!) and we tried five different brews. While we tasted, Adam spoke about some of the less common beers, including one from their Barrel Room Collection called American Kriek which is made with Michigan cherries. Boo-ya! (The more common Cherry Wheat also uses cherries from my home state.)

A $2 donation is recommended for the tour, and since all the money goes to local charities, it’s hard to hold that against them. However, if you’re like me and gave your last buck to a homeless man (I know, I know), there’s certainly no pressure.

I totally don't remember who painted this

My tour finished up just after 3 p.m., so by the time I made it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, it was just about 4; right on time for the admission-free hours that occur every Wednesday night. (Technically, it’s “pay what you like,” but I’m stingy and certainly don’t shell out money before I see what I’m paying for.) The MFA is an impressively large building, but the layout is confusing and it often feels more like a labyrinth than a museum. Even with a map and directions from a museum employee, it took me a good 20 minutes to find the bathroom, and during my visit I ended up backtracking through exhibits I’d already seen more than once while searching for something new. That being said, the collection is a nice mix, and I especially enjoyed the Impressionist paintings on display, despite a disheartening incident that occurred in front of the Van Goghs:

I was admiring one of my favorites — Van Gogh’s portrait of Postman Roulin — when a teenager and little girl walked up in front of me.

“Van Gogh was this crazy guy that cut off his ear,” the teenager told the little girl. “See?” she said, pointing to the portrait of the postman, “He only has one ear in this painting.”

I let out choked laugh that I tried to turn into a cough.

“Oh wait,” said the teen, noticing the placard by the painting. “This isn’t a picture of him.” She turned to the next painting, Van Gogh’s Ravine. Reading the placard for that piece, she zeroed in on the part that talked about how the artist sought asylum in Southern France. “See? An asylum is a place for crazy people.”

I gaped.

She paused. “Well, people with mental illness.”

The two moved on while I wept for the future.


On my last day in the city, Adrienne and I hit up the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Pictures weren’t allowed, so you’ll have to just take my word for it that the place is cool. I definitely recommend taking one of the guided tours; otherwise you’re just wandering with no clue what you’re looking at. My favorite parts of the tour, though, were the bits we learned about Isabella herself. She sounded like a woman who could be both infuriating and admirable, as well as completely full of herself. She put a ton of work into the collection and paid special attention to all the little details seen throughout the house, including the paint wash treatment that covers the walls of the indoor garden that she worked on herself. A portrait of Gardener, done by John Singer Sargent, shows her with a tiny waist accentuated by stings of pearls, a low-cut neckline, and the suggestion of a halo around her head. It was done exactly how she wanted it. Finally, when the museum was turned over to the city of Boston, they had to sign an agreement that nothing would be moved from its original place, or else the collection would be disbanded and sold. Even after her death, Gardner always got her way.

After a late lunch of sushi (I didn’t have any for an entire year, I’m making up for lost time), I gave Adrienne a huge hug, lamented the lack of magazine jobs in Boston, and maneuvered my way through the crazy 5 p.m. traffic en route to my triumphant return to Pennsylvania.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

:D I’m glad you found my apartment hotel-like, despite the ghetto shower curtain-covered futon I had you sleeping on and the fact that I too have mice! You are welcome back anytime.

And I’ll be keeping an eye out for any magazine writing jobs in the city.

Comment by Adrienne

Ha! A “riveting” display about ships.

You see, it’s funny because ships are made with rivets.

Comment by Craig

So just how short is too short?

Comment by Short peope everywhere

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: