Monday, June 23, 2008
Return to Harvard
Harvard was the same as I remembered it: lush green lawns, old ivy-covered red brick buildings, young people shuttling between classes. The business district near Harvard Square changed. New stores replaced old familiar ones. Walking up the steps from Harvard Station into Harvard Square was exciting, kind of like a homecoming you anticipate but at the same time are uncertain of what'll seem both familiar and different. The newsstand and Coop didn't change. The Wursthaus, a German restaurant and rathskeller I haunted 15 years ago when I was a student was replaced by a bank.
I headed right for the campus and passed the wrought iron gate and walked under the archway leading into Harvard yard. Students, tour groups and visitors wandered around and I got some good photographs. Widener Library and Memorial Church were still wonderful.
I ate lunch at John Harvard's Brew House. I frequented that place during the summer 15 years ago. Then I had beer nd sausages and read books I bought from a used book store nearby. Now I'm just a tourist passing through, reconnecting with these places and locations that seem both comforting and alien to me.
After lunch I stopped at an indoor shopping mall that was once an indoor parking garage. I went to Newbury Comics and browsed around, impressed by the Zoltar fortune teller machine at the shop's entrance. I also stopped at a store called The Hempest, which sells clothes, paper and accessories made from hemp and natural fibers. I noticed the revolutionary book store, which sold pamphlets and communist propaganda was out of business, replaced by a clothing store.
"Zoltar, I want to be big..."
I also went to the Harvard Book Store and bought a copy of Persepolis, an excellent graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about her childhood in Iran.
Walking the streets I walked 15 years ago felt weird. There was this eerie sense of deja vu, of retreading the same steps over and over, of interest mingled with tedium. I walked around Cambridge not with a sense of wonder. I wasn't a young student on his way to expository writing class - I was a burnt out journalist looking for a mental fix, a chance to make a deluge of words magically flow again, to cure terminal writer's block. This wasn't the pilgrimage I hoped for - it was retracing my steps and retreading my old stomping grounds just for kicks.
As I walked past the 16th cafe/bookstore/high-brow teashop I saw a movie theater near the old Unitarian Church. I saw a French film at that theater 15 years ago, one with subtitles, but a beautiful story filled with existential characters. I noticed the marquee listed the Rocky Horror Picture Show playing every Saturday at midnight. I laughed, thinking every Saturday night, students from one of the elite colleges in America gather together in a dark theater dressed like transvestites, throwing toast at the screen and yelling obscenities at the top of their lungs. That made my day.