June 2008


Courthouse station

On a sweltering Sunday afternoon, the MBTA’s Courthouse station seems a bit surreal with its deserted concourse, cool purple lights, and shiny floor. On my way to the Institute of Contemporary Art yesterday, I wasn’t sure as I emerged from underground which was the quickest way to the museum. Luckily, upon exiting the subway station I quickly spotted a familiar face who pointed the way: Goldenstash!

Goldenstash shows the way to the ICA

Peony bud, with raindrops

This morning, after several gray, cool, drizzly days, summer arrived suddenly, bursting overnight into full-blown bloom.

Peony

Mountain laurel

In true New England fashion, when summer arrives, it does so with a vengeance: as I write this on Saturday afternoon, it’s 91 degrees outside. How strange, then, to see mountain laurel–a plant I associate with cooler climes–blooming in a shady spot where I hurried Reggie out of the sun on this morning’s walk. Apparently mountain laurel doesn’t read sweltering weather forecasts?

Say what?

Due to last month’s defeat of a proposed tax increase here in Newton, all branch libraries are set to close this Friday. This morning outside the Waban branch library, a homemade sign urged passersby to “Save our Waban branch library & our librarians.” Unfortunately, yesterday’s rain muted the water-soluble message, leaving one indelible moral: some colors do run.

Savenor's Market

Saved on my hard-drive are dated folders containing all the digital photos I’ve ever snapped: day folders nestled in month folders filed by their appropriate year. I’ve never counted how many photos I’ve taken then filed in this manner, but both the snapping and the stockpiling seem a bit obsessive, as if I’m hoarding canned goods in my larder against an imagined Apocalypse. “If disaster strikes,” some paranoid inner voice seems to intone, “at least I’ll have plenty of pictures!”

George Washington parades among the posies

On the one hand, I snap pictures I think I might someday blog, my eye always looking for something new or noteworthy. On the other hand, there are certain things I can’t help but photograph even though I’ve already blogged and re-blogged them so many times, I no longer have anything new to say. What more can be said about the fresh, new leaves of spring, or how many more posts about flowers can I share?

At this point, I’ve recognized that having a teeming archive of random photos is largely useless. Even if I, at some future date, decide I want to revisit the photo I took of Object X some Y months ago, there’s the question of whether I’ll ever find it: did I take that picture in January or March or May, and was it this year or last? Even when I can find a “vintage” photo, my Inner Ethicist has qualms about frequently posting pictures from the past. In my mind, Hoarded Ordinaries is a chronicle of Life Right Now, so if I post too many pictures from last week, last month, or last year, the sense of immediacy is lost. To me at least, frequently posting archival pictures feels like cheating.

George Washington

What I’m describing here is something of a personal conundrum. On the one hand, I insist on taking pictures without knowing exactly when or how I’ll use them, and I save these pictures rather than methodically tossing them. On the other hand, I’m hesitant to post archival images except in moments of blog-duress, when I’m desperate for something to share. If I were indeed hoarding canned goods, I’d be in the perilous predicament of saving up food I can’t by ethical precept actually eat, like a vegetarian stockpiling cans of beef stew. In such a scenario, how can you ever actually dig your way through your own accumulative impulses?

Today has been a literal rainy day. This morning I took Reggie on an abbreviated (but nevertheless soggy) walk; since then, I’ve spent the day doing laundry and grading online papers. If I were to create a dated photo folder titled 2008-06-04, that folder would necessarily be empty since I took no pictures today. What better excuse to revisit a handful of otherwise useless images I snapped before meeting friends for Sunday’s Art Walk in Beacon Hill? When else, exactly, will an occasion arise when I might need a photo of fruit and flowers outside Savenor’s, several shots of an equestrian statue of George Washington, and an extreme close-up of an allium?

Allium

Ultimately (and perhaps paradoxically), I think what enchants me most about the photos I take is exactly this sense of utter uselessness. The world doesn’t need another photo of George Washington strutting on horseback through the Public Garden; the world will be in no way improved by another snapshot of fruit and flowers. But when has utility or sense ever governed creative pursuits? “O reason not the need,” Shakespeare exhorted in King Lear. “Our basest beggars / Are in the poorest thing superfluous.” Even on rainy days, we’re collectively blessed with more than we’ll ever want or need. If the Universe continually insists on presenting us with spring leaves, ripe fruit, eye-catching flowers, statues, and souls, why shouldn’t we continue to notice and savor them, stockpiling for imagined Apocalypses we can’t yet begin to fathom?

Art this way

When my then-husband and I lived in Beacon Hill in the early ’90s, we lived underground in an apartment I wryly referred to as the “Hobbit Hole.” In the past, I’ve described it thusly:

The hobbit hole

Our so-called “garden flat” was almost entirely underground: we had to crouch over to crawl through our own door. (Yes, the door is that short; yes, the ground is that sloped. In a sense, we lived under Beacon Hill in a humble little hobbit-hole.) The apartment was euphemistically termed a one bedroom, but really it was a studio apartment with a doorless, closet-less back room that technically couldn’t be counted as a bedroom. Our kitchen was in the front room, as was our shower: the shower was literally a closet that opened right into the living room. The only place in the apartment where you could close a door behind you was in the toilet: everything else was open.

More than a decade ago, living in a cramped, under-lit cubby-hole where “I felt perpetually crowded in an apartment that never had enough light,” I experienced Beacon Hill in particular and Boston in general as a lean and hungry place, somewhere I lived curled within myself like a seed that didn’t know which way to strive toward the light.

Newborn art fan

At yesterday’s Beacon Hill Art Walk, there was no question about light: it could be found up, up, UP in the sunny blue sky that shone through crevice-like courtyards where paintings, pottery, and other artful bits nestled in inviting nooks. I have to admit I spent as much time ogling the maze-like spaces we walked through–narrow alleys, private courtyards, and dark passages–as I did admiring art. When I lived all-but-under Beacon Hill, I fantasized about the folks who lived above ground, with access to sunlight and space: a horizontally defined Other Half who lived their lives in storied floors (first, second, third) while I existed, potato-like, underground. Yesterday, in the name of art, I got a glimpse at how that Other Half lives.

Art appreciation

The tony townhouses of Beacon Hill are tightly crowded together, but they shelter a surprising amount of space behind and between them: a hidden maze of private alleys, secret courtyards, and cloistered gardens. Every spring, the Beacon Hill Garden Club offers a tour of the neighborhood’s hidden gardens: well-tended spots of green within brick and mortar borders. Although yesterday’s Art Walk didn’t venture into any entirely enclosed gardens, we did stroll down several alleys that are normally closed behind lock and key, accessible only to residents. For the sake of art, it seems, even the Other Half opens (some of) its doors.

If you live in a crowded urban environment, you need a quiet green space to call your own, and even our basement-level garden flat had a tiny, bricked rear patio where we could never manage to grow flowers. In retrospect, we should have abandoned our attempts to acquire a green thumb and grabbed a palette instead, painting flowers in a crowded corner where everything leafy and light-loving refused to grow. Art, I’ve learned, can bring a spot of sunshine to a corner previously crowded in shade.

Click here for a photo-set from yesterday’s Beacon Hill Art Walk. Enjoy!
UPDATE: Click here to see Leslee’s post (with pictures!) from the afternoon.

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