Boston 2009

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After working hard at a 3-day conference, I had a couple of days to myself in Boston. I took a trip nostalgic at my alma mater, Boston University (which included viewing some great artifacts of the recent hockey national championship); strolled through downtown Boston; had a proper seafood dinner with a great friend and her family; and visited the new Institute of Contemporary Art.

The afternoon started with finding a BU hockey NCAA championship baseball cap for my friend Keith. Reassuring to find the post office in the same spot as 20 years ago. I had a decision to make. Head downtown or stroll onto the BU campus. As the weather was so pleasant — sunny and warm — I made the right choice.

Some university buildings were new, to be expected, but again, many were as I remember them. Biggest surprise was the new administrative building in the name of previous BU president, John Silber, on road Silber Way (of course). Silber was president while I attended BU. His arrogance was legendary. I don’t know if I was flattered or disturbed by his direct replies to my letter to him. Well, he’s memorialised at BU now.

Bay State Road retains its charm. A desired location for student residents. I took some photos of my International Relations department (which itself was only constituted in my graduation year of 1990). When I past the BU Pub, I thought of a congratulatory drink I had there with my academic supervisor, Sidney Burrell (who died a couple of years ago).

When I entered the students union, I felt my age. I may be able to keep a youthful appearance, but there was no denying the generation gap here; these kids are 20 years younger than me! All the same, I enjoyed an al fresco lunch.

I wandered upstairs. Looking at the student catering workers brought back memories of the many hours I did the same work here, for decent spending money and free food.

In some display cases were some artifacts from BU’s recent victory in the NCAA hockey championships. Cool to inspect.

I remembered that Burrell was one of the award winning lecturers here, among dozens of framed photos on the wall. Problem was that large red drapes covered the entire collection. I kid you not, upon pulling back the first drape there was Burrell looking right at me. Kind of spooked me out for a moment. But I prayed my thanks and wish his spirit well. It was he who gave me a second chance when I near failed Irish history (shocka); I doubled my efforts for the final exam and he doubled my grade.

I walked about a bit more, snapping up some photos and refreshed memories, before leaving the campus and getting back to my Boston errands (next stop to purchase a gift for another friend).

I met up with Teresa, who booked me in for a massage treatment. I asked the masseuse what the difference was between a Swedish and deep tissue treatment, which she duly explained as she bore into my muscles. “Shall we continue with a deep tissue massage then?” Sure thing. She remarked that I was the least tense Bostonian she’s had, which of course was too good to be true as she finally find a really tight quad. But I can highly recommend massages. (Madame Oui is not amused; she is insisting on one when she accompanies me next time to Boston.)

Teresa and I then went to Fiannual Hall for an outdoor refreshment. Talked about what has changed in Boston since my last visit, about five years ago. Namely, that would be more companies relocating out of downtown and the impact of the recession. I asked if she and her husband would ever consider leaving Boston. “No, I’ve always lived here. I’ve always been a Bostonian.” Boston would be all the worse to lose them.

We joined the rest of her family for a meal at my favourite seafood restaurant, Legal Sea Foods. Their kids are great; I saw them in Dublin last year. Having been denied such a rich selection of seafood delight for so long, I ordered with my eyes and not my gut: the Atlantic lobster platter, with full portions of mussels and clams, was far more than I could managed. But it was so delicious, especially the tender lobster dunked in butter. Yum!

The time went by too quickly, but it was great fun to see Teresa and crew. Hope it’s not too long before our next encounter.

Next morning, I finally say goodbye to Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou and another Cypriot friend (we had been saying goodbye several times over the past 24 hours), and checked out of the hotel. Went to the airport early to check my bag in, so I wouldn’t have to drag it about the city for the day.

Bagless, I headed back into the city to purchase a charm bracelet for Madame Oui, with an initial charm of Boston baked beans (idea is to add charms from newly visited cities). Again, there was evidence of vacant commercial property and closing businesses around me. I hope Boston doesn’t go the way of Toledo in the 1970s.

On Teresa’s recommendation, I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art, newly situated on the expanded seafront part of Boston (can you say Silver Line on the T). I was reluctant to pay the $12 admission (as I only a couple of hours to kill), but I took a gamble and it was worth it. The main exhibition was Shepard Fairey (“Supply and Demand”).

Fairey can be described as an underground artist. Very subversive and creative. Fortunately, there was an ICA staff-guided tour of the exhibit, which I timed perfectly. Much of Fairey’s work reminded me of Barbara Kruger (i.e. “I shop therefore I am”, etc.).

ICA prohibited any photograph taking of the exhibit. I found this ironic/hypocritical, as much of Fairey’s work is in the public domain outdoors, as well as appropriated from other famous artists’ work. Furthermore, Fairey’s attitude towards adhering to strict copyright is loose, to put it mildly. Whatever reason to prohibit proliferation of this material?

Also on display were some video installations. Two memorable ones include a laugh-off contest (“The last one laughing wins”), which demonstrates how a pleasurable emotion can be contorted to pain if attempted for too long, and a modified video of Israeli conscientious objectors who play a mock game of “remove the Jewish settler”, whereby the video is shown in full, but only selected audio clips, which had the effect of demonstrating that these left-wing students were reacting in a manner evoking the very things they vehemently opposed. For example, you hear “not me, not me” and “a Jew doesn’t remove a Jew”.

This video disturbed me. The mere act of playing this game was disturbing. I kept thinking it would be the type of game that some Hitler Youth would play in their day. I mean, any game that plays on anyone else’s suffering just isn’t right! But credit to the artist for provoking such reflective emotions.

I restored some calm by taking in some spectacular views of Boston harbour, from inside ICA. Walking back to the subway, I said my goodbye to Boston, and hope it isn’t so long before my next visit.

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