Thursday, 19 April 2012

Boston Day 2 - largely spent in Cambridge

Last night I posed the question to myself - since there was no-one else around - is it possible to walk from South End to Cambridge? Now, we're not talking 'The Fens' here: this was simply wondering whether it was possible, practical and even advisable to walk through Boston and across the Charles River to my planned visit to the Special Collections Archive in MIT's Hayden Memorial Library.

I am very delighted to say that the answer's a very resounding 'yes'. a walk up Dartmouth, across Copley Square and along Newbury (replete with Ben Sherman, Lush, Jack Wills  and a number of other very recognisable brands from home) took me to Massachusetts Avenue and a stroll over the bridge in the sunshine. I arrived way too early at MIT, so strolled around the campus. There's money here: BIG money. Most of the buildings aren't very old by European Standards so there's a comparison with Brunel - but it quickly ends. There's no sense of make do and mend on this side of the Charles: everything's endowed; everything looks plentiful and there's a significant air of confidence. One echo of my Brunel experience is the clear sign that China's Rising. Every second or third student seems to be Chinese or of Chinese extraction. They're bright, conscientious, eager to pick up western methodology and, most of all, they can pay for the best education money can buy.

I was really surprised to find that this renowned institute of technology has a faculty of Arts, humanities and Social Sciences. it seems that back in the 50s, there was belated recognition that even the nation's leading scientific brains needed a balance of liberal arts to round them out. So I've just spent today rooting through the archive of the man who brought arts to MIT - Jim Killian - an enlightened college president and one-time adviser to President Eisenhower.

It was good to be back looking at primary sources. There's a real frisson when you pick up documents hand-written by Dick Nixon, 'DE' and even John Kennedy. Today didn't reveal anything massively startling, but did add a few jigsaw pieces and filled in some gaps on who knew who when - and who was talking about what to whom.


I repeated my walk back this afternoon, and suspect I had a stupid grin on my face all the way. People do walk in Boston - and they jog and they cycle and unlike virtually every other American city I've been to, this is foot-friendly. It has been a good day in a great city spent doing something I love - even if I was wide awake at 5.15am!

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