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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back to the Heights

Since we've been back in Boston I've been meaning to make a trip out to my alma mater, Boston College, just to wander around and see what's changed, and the other day I finally got around to it. Even though it's located out in Chestnut Hill, where the city transitions into suburbia, the journey was surprisingly easy since it turned out there's a bus two blocks from my house that goes almost straight there. I'll never understand how the bus routes were planned in this city.

While a lot of the campus is marred by sad mid-century architecture, the main gate and quad are very satisfyingly collegiate, even downright medieval.

It was fun to walk around noticing things that my fuzzy undergraduate mind had missed, like the faux-medieval touches on an academic-inspiration themed building like Bapst Library. Look at this witty carving of serf-students puzzling over a book. Just a little clue that this is indeed Boston College, lest you were fooled by the atmosphere of reverence for learning. If only they were wearing backwards baseball caps.

I'd read that they put in a labyrinth as a 9-11 memorial, and I really liked it. It was among several new elements of the campus that added a more serious and interesting tone than I remembered there.

Like, for example, check out this crazy statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola, captured in a moment of spiritual fervor. Ignatius and I go way back, since I attended not only a Jesuit university but a Jesuit high school as well, so I recognized the old guy right away.

A lot of my spiritual fervor back in those days centered around these mailboxes, and whether mine would contain any letters. I was a letter writing fiend, probably no more than the email I write now, actually, but it seemed more significant when the reply arrived in an envelope. I loved how you could peek in through the little window and see the tantalizing stack of mail. I had a recurring dream after I graduated that I was back in the mail room gazing at a full P.O. box through said window, but was unable to remember the combination.

A baseball-capped coed trotted by me with a red Netflix envelope when I was lurking in there, and it struck me so funny that college students would subscribe to Netflix. I guess there's no reason why not, but shouldn't she be reading or something? Or at least earnestly writing letters upstairs in the cafe, like young Chrissa used to do.

Speaking of the cafe, it has gotten quite a makeover since 1993. I originally knew it as "Sweets and Treats," and spent many hours there with my earnest cups of coffee and endless chocolate chip cookies. (One of my best college friends worked there for awhile, though when I was first getting to know her I somehow had the impression that she had a twin sister and that was the one who worked at Sweets and Treats. I think my sole reason for believing she must be my friend's twin, instead of being in fact my friend, was because Imaginary Cafe Twin wore her hair in two long braids, while Actual Friend wore her hair down when I saw her in our shared English class. See what I mean about my fuzzy undergraduate mind?) Anyway, as I was graduating, Sweets and Treats underwent a sad transformation as a Dunkin' Donuts outpost, but it is now fresh and modern and serving chocolate croissants, and called, oh so cleverly ... the Chocolate Bar!

The really weird makeover was the old McElroy dining hall, now saucily called "Carney's" and decorated like some airport international terminal. It was still a funny old mid-century Catholic school cafeteria underneath the soaring canvas awnings though, with flourescent up-lighting and a big wooden crucifix over the doorway to the restrooms. You'll always be McElroy to me, Carney's.

I know people always say this when they revisit things like old schools, but all the kids looked so, so young. I hated some of them (just like I used to), the overly made-up girls talking on cell phones and standing in the middle of the walkway, but some of them just broke my heart ... a dorky-cool kid walking through the cafeteria with social anxiety written all over his face, someone else climbing the steps to the quad carefully holding a brown-paper wrapped care package he'd just picked up from the mail room. I swear, every other kid was carrying a package, some special little bundle of goodies packed up and mailed by mom and dad to make their little pumpkin feel remembered at school.

I am waxing sentimental, I know, but I think the thing that struck me was that I didn't realize, back then, how much effort it took to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be, and to start to make those decisions on your own, instead of following the instructions of Mom and Dad. I guess I thought life was always going to be that way, full of angst and self-analysis, and most of all the paralyzing anxiety of worrying who you might see at the library and whether or not you should say "Hi" to them. (Okay, that was more high school than college, and I'm revealing myself as a total social nerd, but it's true, it used to take up a lot of energy.)

Without trying too hard to be profound - but then again, this is a post about the college years, so why not? - I wanted to pull aside Nerdy Cafeteria kid or Care Package kid and tell them I thought they were cool, reassure them in some way, or at least smile at them. I actually did happen to smile at this older guy leaving the cafeteria - he looked like he may have worked there - and his expression was total amazement. Back when I was a student there, my friends and I thought Boston College wasn't a very friendly place. Going back, the expressions I saw on faces looked more like uncertainty than hostility, with far too much doubt over who they were and how they should act to risk smiling at a random stranger, at least not yet.

The Gorey Is in the Details

Is it just me, or does the profile of the gracious lady I recently spied adorning a building in Brighton look more than a little Goreyesque? The big droopy eye, the way the forehead slopes into the long nose with hardly a bump. An eery thing to come home to every day ...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Embroidery and Toast

I recently got motivated to try out some embroiding as a change from knitting and crochet. I got a hot water bottle (heart shaped!) to help a certain someone keep warm through the winter, and I decided it ought to come with a hot water bottle cozy. I love cozies for inanimate objects. Like, "Keep the cell phone warm! It's shivering!" Though in this case, for both comfort and heat conservation, it makes some sense.

Long ago I had noticed some fantastic embroidered felt items on the website of my then-coworker Jess Hutchison, and they always stuck in my mind. (Looks like the photos of the felt things are gone now - she had an embroidered Airstream image, a little tiki guy, stuff like that - but now she has lots of strange and wonderful little knitted individuals, which are very worth checking out.) So I decided to take that approach. I had also recently come across the work of My Paper Crane's Heidi Kenney, and found myself charmed, even mildly obsessed, by her sad burned toast. Yes, it is sad because it got burned.

So anyway, this is what I came up with, my fledgling attempt at embroidery.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Solace of the Y

I know I'm not alone when I say I always hated gym class. Back in grade school, the sense of dread it inspired in me felt like a unique and solitary thing, but as an adult I've since heard enough tales of gym class horror to realize my feelings were all too common.

It wasn't so much the humiliation of being chosen late (never quite last, but always close) for teams, not being able to hit/catch/spike the ball, failing to execute the requisite number of sit-ups for the annual President's Test or whatever that thing was called, although all that was miserable. I think most of all I just hated having to change out of my school clothes in the middle of the day. It felt wrong. And then the standing around with one's classmates in cheap gym uniform shorts and t-shirts, our unnaturally bare legs chilly in the big quiet gymnasium. And then running around and getting sweaty and tired in the middle of the school day, and putting the school clothes back on again, without showers, and with all of five minutes to get changed.

We only had "P.E." ("Don't call it Gym!" the teacher would insist. Why? Why did that mean so much to her? Couldn't she handle it?) a few times a week, so I was always in peril of forgetting my locker combination. I still have a recurring nightmare that I'm standing in front of my little beige gym locker and have no idea how to open it.

Things got a little better in college when I tried some sports and realized I wasn't quite as hopeless as I'd always believed (as long as no catching or throwing was involved). I had just been a prisoner of my own self-imposed, uncoordinated identity! I sometimes feel incredulous that I am that same P.E.-loathing girl, when I now go to the local gym by choice (though perhaps not that often), and pay money for the privilege to do so.

My current gym, the Cambridge YMCA, makes all the difference. There are no beautiful people at the Cambridge Y. There is no strutting, no competition, no "I would choose you last in basketball" vibe. This differentiates it from the tormented childhood gym experience, though ironically, it feels a lot like a school gym. It is, after all, a little smelly, a little worn. Maybe this helps give one a feeling of playing out past wrongs and making them right.

Among my Y-going friends, I like to call it the Wes Anderson Y (if Wes Anderson filmed in Cambridge). I find this makes the shabbiness of the facility much easier to bear, or even enjoy.

The lobby of the building has a run-down grandeur, with a stairway to the Y's own theater as you walk in. Very Royal Tenenbaums.

Down the hall a large paper dinosaur is displayed prominently on the wall. This would be a Max Fischer project, I like to think.

To get to the gym, we go underground. It's all subterranean. You hear the subway roar by periodically as you're getting changed in the locker room. From here on out, it's "The Life Aquatic." You might as well be running around in a giant submarine. It's all too easy to get lost. The lockers and fixtures are vintage '70s, with lots of beige paint. Through a a hallway window, you peer into the dreamy blue of the swimming pool, festooned with bright pennants and old-time orange life jackets.

Nope, you're not dreaming! Here are old photos of SCUBA lessons to prove the connection.

I'm not sure how these guys fit in, I just like them. Maybe we can relate them somehow to Chaz Tenenbaum and his sons in their matching track suits.

There's an indoor track at the Y, suspended above "The Small Gym" balcony-style, giving that room an incongruently elegant dance-hall ambiance. Ari and Uzi could go running there!