sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2017-07-06 05:42 am

To the seaport town where the big ships lie

The current music is not strictly speaking music; it's the poem which accompanies the picture of "The Traveller's Joy Fairy" in Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairies of the Seasons (1988), it's the only poem in the book that stayed with me over the years (as opposed to the illustrations of various fairies, where I can still point out my favorites: Poppy, Rose Hip, Blackthorn, and Willow were paramount among them), and it's been stuck in my head since about seven o'clock this evening, when I took off running through the willows and dog-walkers of the North Point Park to catch a glimpse of the construction-colored double drawbridge out of North Station with counterweights raised to let a sailboat through. Made it, too.

We had a good day walking; we had a lot of the living city; we had the sea. Originally we had designs on the sea in Salem, but due to my failing to sleep until well after eight in the morning, we cleaned the house instead of catching a commuter train and then headed out in the late afternoon, walking down to Lechmere mostly along Medford Street and McGrath Highway, although at some point we diverged onto Gore Street and were treated to a fountainful of kids of various ages, colors, and degrees of clothing shrieking happily in Gold Star Mothers Park. We were trying to stick to the shady sides of the street. Once past Lechmere, we stopped at the Museum of Science to visit Charles and Ray Eames' Mathematica and acquire the three packages of freeze-dried ice cream which we ate on our way through the North Point Park. From the chain-linked apex of the North Bank Bridge, we watched a strong contender for the happiest dog in the world bark at a whole flotilla of touring Ducks as commuter trains hummed back and forth across the rejoined drawbridge. There was a broken window flapping with torn plastic sheeting in the old Signal Tower 'A' of the Boston and Maine Railroad, which did not make us happy, but all bins of the Boston Sand and Gravel Company were full as if well-fed, which did. Neither of us remembered a skate park under the Zakim Bridge, with its well-combined landscape of ramps and railings and stairs and benches and other features of public architecture that cities generally discourage from having skateboards on them. Something about the monumental angles of the underside of the Zakim always makes me think of a starship passing overhead, either from Star Wars or Red Dwarf depending on my mood. We crossed into the North End via the locks of the Charles River Dam as usual, playing Paul Matisse's Charlestown Bells (2000) as we passed, but then we followed the harborwalk under the old echoing rivets of the North Washington Street Bridge and into a curving green space that turned out to be Langone Park, where we found a granite memorial from WWII that we think must have been for radio officers of the merchant marine, because it was dedicated in 1944 by the U.S. Maritime Service and contained a record of names with the legend "Duty Done—Message Sent—Country Served." At the top of the plinth was a bronze ship sinking, ringed with a repeating motif of Morse code and a symbol like a bolt of electricity. Di-di-di-dah-di-dah. That's SK, last contact, end of transmission. There may have been other information we missed from not being able to get confidently round all sides of the memorial—there was a wrought-iron fence and some kind of opportunistic conifer in the way—but it was quietly effective from everything we understood. Behind it was a kind of sunken court containing what looked like three dry reflecting pools to me, but [personal profile] spatch identified it as a bocce court, with a pair of teenagers and balls of two or three colors at one end. Across Commercial Street, the ivy-latched granite stairs and parapets that zigzag up to the top of Copp's Hill looked appropriately like something out of Central Park, since they were designed by one of Olmsted's apprentices. Ninety-eight years ago in January, we'd have been under half a fathom of molasses. At eight o'clock in the lambent summer evening, with a daymoon and the sky turning that particular swimming gold of nineteenth-century oil paintings, we realized abruptly that we could eat a passerby apiece.

We have not managed to eat almost anywhere in the North End but Antico Forno since we discovered the restaurant in 2014, but that is all right because their polpette are still great and they served me an entire plate of mussels with plenty of bread for making sure the spicy tomato sauce did not get away. Afterward we hit up Modern Pastry on Hanover Street for provisions (a marzipan strawberry and a chocolate-shelled cannolo in Rob's case, a pistachio macaroon and a sugar-powdered lobster tail in mine) and set out for the original goal of our walk, from which the sheer pleasant wandering of the afternoon had distracted us: the Charlestown Navy Yard. Crossing back over the Charles River Dam, we finally got to see one of the locks in action—I didn't realize that two parts of a steel-plate walkway were swinging back into place as the bottom gates closed until the voice over a sudden loudspeaker told us to keep back. There was a small craft in the lock, with four or five people holding the boat steady by ropes along the sides of the chamber; they raised a canvas canopy as the top gates opened, which struck me as optimistic for a clear, warm, hardly windy night, but they were heading out into the harbor. The current dam was built in 1978, replacing the original dam from 1910 that failed twice in hurricanes of the 1950's and now lies under the Museum of Science. I feel like I must have seen the locks in operation as a child, but as an adult I have been waiting five years for the red-and-white signs which warn that the City of Boston is not responsible if I get myself drowned or ground into hamburger trying to cross the dam while the lock-gates are in motion to prove their point, so I am pleased to report that it was worth it. Huge gears turning slowly but inexorably, holding the river steady, raising the level to the sea. We picked up the harborwalk on the other side of the Charles, followed until it ended in the spoked half-wheel of wrought iron that marks the perimeter of the Navy Yard, now property of the National Park Service. The USS Constitution was still in drydock, with much better paint than the last time we had seen her in 2015. The bristling grey silhouette we had seen earlier in the afternoon, strung with a bright bunting of signal flags, was the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Cassin Young, which I never seem to remember we have. We sat on a bench on the marina and watched streetlight ripple pink and white on the nighttime water and I deconstructed my lobster tail, which resembled nothing so much as a trilobite made out of choux pastry. Walking up Rutherford Avenue to the Community College T station, because after five hours we were finally starting to run out of steam, it became very apparent how Route 99 had sliced through the North End and Charlestown, narrow streets and triangles of residential red brick on our right hand, on our left suddenly nothing but highway. When we got off the Orange Line at Sullivan, I have no idea what the hell was going on with the expressway, but the elevated section of I-93 which renders the entire station a skeletal, sort of rustily Brutalist underpass was reverberating like an immense shaken sheet of tin thunder. Rob thought it might have been power washing. I put my earplugs back in. Everyone piled gratefully onto the 89 as soon as it arrived.

That is part of what I mean by a living city: infrastructure, people. The second time we walked under the North Washington Street Bridge, it was full night and although I saw the two fishermen with their poles laid across the planks of the harborwalk, I did not see the transparent fishing line loosely draped at ankle-height and had to take a moment to disentangle myself, after which it was speculated that perhaps they were really fishing for passers-by, but we wished one another well as we parted. I have felt more than ambivalent for years about the glassy condos going up on Lovejoy Wharf, but I appreciate that Converse, which is now headquartered in the former Schrafft's warehouse, did not take all of its Pride signage down the second June ticked over into July. My brain just hit a wall and I have a doctor's appointment in six hours, so instead of some elegant conclusion, here are some links acquired today:

1. I wish this were getting a broadcast through NT Live, but since it doesn't seem to be, I hope somebody on my friendlist is going and can tell me what it was like: the National Theatre is doing a one-night revival reading of Mae West's sympathetic gay farce The Drag (1927). There are several people I really like in that cast.

2. I sang with Peter Gould at Brandeis; he has adapted Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" into the gently anthemic "Mother of Exiles" and hopes to use the song to raise awareness and funds for the International Refugee Assistance Project. Further information can be found at your tired, your poor. Music and lyrics included, for when you want to sing it yourself.

3. This is just a really good piece on indigenous knowledge and the mythology of exploration: Christopher Begley, "The Lost City That's Not Lost, Not a City, and Doesn't Need to Be Discovered."

I like discovering this city I live in.
gaudior: (Default)

[personal profile] gaudior 2017-07-06 10:06 am (UTC)(link)
This is a really good city. I'm glad you had fun rambling it!
moon_custafer: (Default)

[personal profile] moon_custafer 2017-07-06 11:23 am (UTC)(link)
the National Theatre is doing a one-night revival reading of Mae West's sympathetic gay farce The Drag

I think you should know that I heard Ralph Richardson shouting THE NATIONAL THEATRE when I read that.
asakiyume: (holy carp)

[personal profile] asakiyume 2017-07-06 11:54 am (UTC)(link)
Yay! What a great day. So glad you got to see the locks in action, and I like your description of the lobster tail as a trilobite made out of choux pastry. Also, the idea of fishing for passersby under the Washington Street Bridge. A tin of thunder is also an appealing concept.

I liked the article by ChristopherBegley, too--thanks! I gave it to a friend who was recently traveling in that area.

You look like the poppy flower fairy, or it looks like you, a little.
lost_spook: (Default)

[personal profile] lost_spook 2017-07-06 04:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Aw, glad you had a good day.

And Flower Fairies! I used to get the books out of the library when I was ill, trace all the fairies, colour them in, cut them out and put them on coloured wool for my sisters to hang from their bookshelves. I'm feeling guiltily unsure I ever bothered to really read the poems. (Hmm, I remember one from Wayside, but I can't remember which fairy. I must have read some of them!)
lost_spook: (Northanger reading)

[personal profile] lost_spook 2017-07-07 09:43 am (UTC)(link)
My sisters are both younger than me, and this would have been a long time ago - at least 25 years now (which fact makes me do a double take because clearly it ought to be impossible), so I don't suppose any of them are still in existence.

Oh, I know the books quite well - it's just, as I said, I traced the fairies, I even have a few of the books still, but I've barely bothered to read the poems since the first time when I was probably about 8 or 9. But, to be honest, the pictures are pretty much sufficient, as you say!
cmcmck: (Default)

[personal profile] cmcmck 2017-07-06 07:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I was born and bred in a naval dockyard town so I like the sound of your visit!
dhampyresa: (Default)

[personal profile] dhampyresa 2017-07-06 08:33 pm (UTC)(link)
"The Lost City That's Not Lost, Not a City, and Doesn't Need to Be Discovered."

That's an excellent title.
ashlyme: (Default)

[personal profile] ashlyme 2017-07-07 10:06 am (UTC)(link)
What a fantastic day! Thanks for sharing your city with us.

(I liked the Poppy and Willow fairies the best.)
a_reasonable_man: (Default)

[personal profile] a_reasonable_man 2017-07-09 02:10 pm (UTC)(link)
In the 19th century, certain people were known as great "pedestrians"--for the long walks they would take. Charles Sumner, I've heard, was one (before being caned slowed him down). Henry Thoreau, whose 200th birthday is this week, wrote an essay on "Walking," in which he came up with a fictitious etymology for the word "sauntering," as being from "saint terrer"--someone heading to the Holy Land, where he thought everyone should try to go wherever they walk. And he also said, in _Walden_, that "I have traveled a good deal in Concord."

You are a great pedestrian. You should publish a book of your Boston sauntering travelogues.