Our hapless navigator Google leads us directly into the heart of Boston, even though it’s not where we’re going – we meant to avoid this, this labyrinth of one way streets and hands permanently pushing on horns and getting caught in intersections. We meant to stay on the outskirts, to never go in.
Driving through Boston, it makes sense to go to tea. And we do, inside a massive building with all-wood interior. We take the elevator up, but when we descend, it is down a grand central staircase out of an Escher print, angles somehow curving us down and out to the streets of Cambridge. The staircase splits in two to scoop around at every landing, leaving a direct path from the staircase into a corner. This architecture seems more concerned with pompous assertion than with the way we move, or the way a building makes us want to move. It’s pretty, nonetheless. It used to be a dorm for rich boys, but now it is a tea parlor for us, our host so gracious we feel our bodies unwind from the creeping traffic. When we leave, we are surrounded by Tufts students in the glow of signs for poké bowls, Korean dinners, Japanese rolls. Everything is jumbling but it is okay, we are excited again.
“Why are our Boston friends so cute?” you keep saying and I agree. Two fluffy golden sentinels, a Chow and a Golden Doodle, keep their distance as we enter the next apartment, friends upstairs in Somerville. We stay with our academics. Friends so interesting and interested. We are back in a nexus of academia, and all our ideas are fresh again. Even the ones we don’t usually share with people — the weird pockets of the internet, the references to Shrek, they all intermingle with an art history PhD, protest art, food. Friends that see us as we are, and have seen us as we were. The friend that tells me I’m the same person as I was in high school, just shorter hair and more piercings, a comment I appreciate as a relief to the constant barrage of “you’re so different now”.
They sit with us and hold space for ideas, lofty and unformed. The space is full of tea, and specialty cookies, and blueberries, and toast made in a toaster that cooks us eggs at the same time. We are full and I feel validated, reinvigorated, reconnected with the ideas no one has really listened to in months. These shelters of what feel like the true academia feel comfortable, familiar, welcoming. I want to slip back into the perfect chair, the one that was her grandmother’s, that is a perfect shape, and talk about the ability of art to effect political movement. But that is not academia. It is a component. But that is not it.
Despite the bubbles we flit in and out of I am reminded of another Boston, a more historical one perhaps, a one symbolic of America, while walking to the dog park when we pass a white man speaking to a white woman who drops his voice but I still hear, “You don’t know with the immigrants whether they’re going to be smart.” Is it the Freedom Trail when we run away from that man with the dogs along a boardwalk? In my mind, we are running from him, running toward our pockets of shelter, toward the spaces that feel true to us, toward the dog park that you have to pass through two gates to get inside. We run as long as the dogs will humor us, we leave with little ceremony but lots of love, hitting the interstate in a straight shot through New Hampshire.
It is a beautiful and empty-feeling stretch of state, with fall colors despite the warming spring. A blonde lady with a bumper sticker declaring her a Marine Mom eats cheddar-flavored Ruffles from the bag as she drives, staring straight ahead, almost motionless. We pull off to run in the parking lot of the Old Man in the Mountain, a landmark we don’t know, but we do not go to see him like the settlers did. New Hampshire becomes sealed as an opaque place to me, the sun as wary as the Chow, peeking out but not committing to the tall hills. We can only assume the shape of the Old Man’s face, the rustle of the chip bag, the destination of the trucks receding on the exit ramps.