The obvious solution to a garbage strike is to leave town.
Well, actually we had our trip to Boston planned for at least two months. J. read in the NYT about a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition coming to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), and we realized we had a bit of time in late June, and, besides, J. had never been to Boston and I hadn’t been since 1999 or thereabouts.
We flew Air Canada, which was uneventful on the way down, and slightly more eventful on the way back since they cancelled our flight. We were fortunate to get seats on the next flight out which was also the last flight of the day. In town, we stayed at the Copley Square Hotel in the Back Bay, which was apparently the first hotel in the back bay, having been in business since 1891. It was just renovated last year and re-opened with a modern hip international-style look — a bit hipper than we really needed or would ordinarily be willing to pay for, but they had a very good promotion for their “interior view” rooms. Since these rooms remain a nonnegotiable part of the hotel’s structure, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were more such promotions in the future. It’s very conveniently located just off Copley Square, near a number of other hotels, shops, and restaurants, within reasonable walking distance of many attractions and convenient to the subway which will get you pretty much anywhere you’re likely to want to go. The 39 bus also stops right at the hotel’s doorstep which is actually probably the fastest way of getting to the MFA.
We spent our first day wandering around Boston, up to the old North End — an slightly odd combination of Revolution Era landmarks and Boston’s Little Italy — where we visited Old North Church and drank iced coffee and double espresso (J. and I. respectively) in an Italian cafe. We wandered back through Quincy Market (now unfortunately transformed into a food court) and downtown with lots of photo ops, finally getting back to our hotel via Boston Common, the Public Gardens, and Newbury Street.
Our second day was devoted to the MFA. The special exhibition — on till mid-August — is a comparative exhibition of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, three leading Venetian sixteenth-century Venetian painters. All are obviously first-rate artists, but our favourite by a long measure was Titian — J. putting it in terms of Titian being a “once-in-a-century” painter and the other two “once-in-a-decade” painters. Tintoretto is interesting, with canvasses characterized by great energy and outward drama, but Titian is often capable of capturing the same dramatic intensity with greater complexity and richness. Their later works sometimes made us think of El Greco and Rembrandt respectively. I’m not sure what to make of Veronese based on what was on offer — I think numerically he had slightly fewer paintings on display than the other two — and a certain amount of what I saw struck me more as not-Titian or not-Tintoretto than as something distinctively Veronese. Apparently Titian himself — a generation older than the other two — preferred Veronese to Tintoretto, though that may have had as much to do with personal and professional reasons as with any view of their respective artistic merits. In the evening after dinner we walked through the Back Bay and parts of Beacon Hill.
We went back to the same neighborhood on our third day to see the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a palazzo-style building built to order to accommodate the collections of its founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924). Gardner was a woman of considerable means and strength of personality who acquired a very distinctive collection of art, mainly European pre-1900, which in its day was more significant than the collection next door at the MFA. It’s still a very impressive collection, a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, with a number of significant old masters (including another famous Titian). It is also the scene of one of the most (in)famous art thefts of the last century, dating from the early 1990s, where about a dozen works were stolen including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer.
We had some time left in the afternoon and took the subway over the Cambridge to see Harvard University, unfortunately a bit underwhelming as far as we were concerned. I think perhaps we have just spent too much time hanging around universities.
We spent our last day in the Back Bay, taking in views at the Public Gardens, walking along the Charles, and finally popping into Trinity Church, a remarkable Romanesque-style Episcopal church designed by the American architect H.H. Richardson and dating from the 1870s. It is interesting partly for its engineering, sitting like other buildings of days on multiple wooden poles that carry the weight of the building through the Back Bay infill to solid clay.
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